Strangers unite to save lives in Missoula in the aftermath of an avalanche, a kind act leads to housing an unhoused person and closure for a family, 9/11 witness finds hope in unity, and shared grief fosters empathy and beauty in life's poignant moments.

Transcript : The Kindness of Strangers - Part 2

Welcome to the Tell Us Something podcast, I’m Marc Moss.

We are currently looking for storytellers for the next Tell Us Something storytelling event. The theme is “Close to the Edge” If you’d like to pitch your story for consideration, please call 406-203-4683. You have 3 minutes to leave your pitch. Our friends from the Deaf community are welcome to pitch by emailing [email protected].

The pitch deadline is February 17th. I look forward to hearing from you.

This week on the podcast… “”I immediately get off of the exam table, and I get to the ground.” “Sometimes, a small act of kindness and compassion, as simple as buying a stranger a sandwich, can change someone’s life, and maybe even their death.” “Never forget. On 9/11, we leaned into each other, recognizing our shared humanity.” “Death. It’s final, it’s in your face, it’s unforgiving.”

…four storytellers share their true personal story on the theme “The Kindness of Strangers”. Their stories were recorded live in-person in front of a sold-out crowd on December 06, 2023 at The Wilma in Missoula, MT.

Winter is traditionally a time when we slow down. Our indigenous friends, during winter, share stories that they don’t share at other times of the year. Tell Us Something acknowledges that we are gathered on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Ponder eh, Salish, and Kootenai peoples.

Traditionally, storytelling is reserved for the winter months for many tribes. This was a practical choice given the fact that during the other seasons, people were busy growing, gathering, and hunting food. It is in the winter, with the long dark evenings, the snow and wind blowing outside, that telling stories is used to entertain — and teach the children. Another reason for winter storytelling, is that many traditional stories contain animal characters. To be respectful, people wait until the winter when animals hibernate or become less active so they cannot hear themselves being talked about.

We take this moment to honor the land and its Native people and the stories that they share with us.

Thank you to our Title sponsor – Blackfoot Communications.

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Sensitive listeners be aware that Tell Us Something stories sometimes have adult themes and storytellers sometimes use adult language and profanity.

Our first storyteller is Erin Scoles, a mother, who, watrches in shock as a terrifying avalanche burries her young son. Strangers and community come together in Missoula to save lives in the midst of chaos. Erin calls her story “Found”. Thanks for listening.

Erin Scoles: It’s short enough.

Um, I’m not a huge fan of winter, and it’s partly due to the fact that I can’t feel some of my toes. I permanently damaged them years ago while searching for my missing son. It was February 28th, 2014, and Missoula had declared it a snow day. All schools were closed, um, and I was a college student at the time, so I was at home.

with my 8 and my 10 year old. It was around 4 o’clock in the afternoon when they come into my bedroom and ask if they can go outside and play. I of course said yes. Um, I could hear them in their shared room next to mine getting ready and I hear my 10 year old daughter Coral telling my 8 year old son Phoenix to put on an extra layer of clothes because of how cold it was outside.

He of course listened to his big sister. Um, at this time, my partner at the time, Casey, just got home from work. He was able to ski to work that day because of the large amount of snow that had fallen. The kids finish getting ready, and they go outside to play, and I’m in my bed, and I’m watching a show.

And to the right of me is a huge window, and I can see my entire backyard, and I can see my kiddos playing. Um, about ten minutes passed, and I actually start to feel my house shake and I didn’t register what it was. Um, I knew Missoula had earthquakes before. I had, like, have, I have felt them before. And I knew this was not an earthquake.

I then heard it and then I look out. That huge window, and I saw it. And, I don’t know why my brain did this, but it did. And it was two screens, so it was like a split screen. And one screen was this huge white wave. And it was cascading into my backyard. And I couldn’t see my garage anymore. It wasn’t there.

And my neighbor’s house wasn’t there either. On the other split screen, I see Coral and Phoenix. And they’re turned around. They’re looking at this white wave coming towards them. The avalanche. And they start running. I see it hit Phoenix. And I see the avalanche pick him up. And Phoenix gets tossed around a bit.

I remember seeing his orange coat and his black boots. And then I see nothing because the avalanche hits my house. And it knocks me off my bed. And all of a sudden I’m, I’m on my floor and it’s dark and it’s silent and I still can’t register what just happened. I get off the ground and I, I run out of my bedroom in the kitchen and Casey runs right in front of me and we don’t make eye contact.

We don’t even, we don’t even say, we don’t say anything to each other. And I later learned he knew exactly what it was and he went downstairs to grab his avalanche probe and his avalanche shovel. Um, I continued to go through the kitchen to the side door, which is the quickest way to my backyard, and I can’t open it.

There is so much snow, and there’s a canoe in the way, and there’s part of someone’s roof. Um, I turn around and I make my way out to my front door, and I run down the front steps, and I go to open the gate to my backyard, but there’s no gate. And there’s no 12 foot fence either that surrounds my house usually.

At this moment I start screaming, My babies, my babies. And I enter my backyard and Coral runs up to me. She was in the runoff of the avalanche and was able to free herself pretty easily. She was pretty shooken up though, of course. I asked her where her brother was and she had no idea. I started screaming again, and I’m screaming my baby.

My baby, I go more into my backyard and I don’t see Phoenix and all of a sudden there’s like a dozen people, strangers, neighbors in my yard. And they’re asking me, who is Phoenix? And where did you last see him? And I explain these things to these people and they just know what to do. They start digging.

And some of these people have Avalanche shovels. We’re in Missoula, right? Um, and some people have normal snow shovels and I don’t know how much time has passed, maybe five minutes, maybe eight, and a neighbor comes up to me and makes me go inside my house, and I hadn’t realized at this time, but the entire time I was outside, the only thing I had on was a very flimsy, thin, cotton robe with no tie, because that had been lost in the chaos, and it was just flapping in the wind, And so I was completely naked.

Um, You’re welcome Missoula.

Sorry Coral. Um,

Sorry, I couldn’t help it. Um, So I was completely naked, I had no shoes on, nothing. Um, thankfully she makes me go inside and helps me get dressed. She tells me to stay inside, and I don’t listen. I go back outside and And somebody hands me a shovel, and I start digging. That’s what everybody is doing. I, I look around and there’s like 75 plus people in or around my yard.

And at this time, it’s also learned there’s two missing people, more missing people, Michael and Fred, my neighbors who live behind me, whose house I saw that was missing. So we’re digging for three people at this time. And I look around more, and I, I see people with shovels, and the Avalanche shovels, and normal shovels, and people are using parts of my broken fence, and people are using, like, garbage can lids, like, really anything they can find.

And I start to panic, because I realize I could be standing over Phoenix, or Michael, or Fred, and I wouldn’t be able to get to them soon enough. So I drop my shovel, and I start screaming. Uh, that same neighbor comes over to me, and now a firefighter comes over to me, and they tell me I have to leave the scene, that there’s an ambulance waiting for me down the road, and it has Coral and Casey, and we all have to get checked out at the hospital.

Um, they each put an arm around me, because it’s really hard for me to walk. My feet really hurt. So we’re walking down the road to the waiting ambulance, and at this exact moment is when a photographer takes a photo of me, and The very next morning, it’s on the front page of the Missoulian. We get to the ambulance and there’s three EMTs and there’s Coral and Casey and we start making our way to St.

Pat’s Hospital. Coral’s checked out. She’s got bumps and bruises. They’re warming up my feet and the the EMT that is warming up my feet. I remember he had really soft blue gray eyes and long gray hair and He was really trying to comfort and reassure me that there were so many people looking for my son.

And, it wasn’t helpful at that moment. Um, and I looked at him very seriously and I said, If they do not find Phoenix, or if they do not find him alive, Do not let me out of your sight. He knew exactly what I meant when I said that. What he didn’t know was that 11 years prior, I had lost a child. And I knew I could not live through losing another.

We get to the hospital, they put us in a room, they check out my feet more in Quarrel, and in that hospital room are two police detectives. Quarrel, Casey, a friend, a doctor, a nurse, that same EMT. Um, a few minutes pass and that EMT comes up to me and I’m sitting on the exam table and he puts his hand on me and he says, They found Phoenix.

He’s alive. He’s not awake. I immediately get off of the exam table, and I get to the ground. And I get as low as I can get. And I don’t know why I did this. I am not a religious person. At all. Sorry.

And, While I’m doing this, I am explaining it. I need to be in the most humble position possible. That’s all I knew I had to do in that moment. I get to the ground. I’m explaining that. Everybody in that room does the exact same thing. Even the two police detectives. Which I kind of laugh about, which is like really great, but I don’t think I’ll ever experience that again.

We stay in this position until someone comes into that room and says that Phoenix is in the hospital. And he’s receiving fluids, and he’s getting warmed up, and he’s getting looked at, and we can see him really soon. It’s also explained that, when he was found, his body temperature was so dangerously low, that they have to slowly warm him up, as to not cause any more shock to his system.

So they warn us of all the heating pads and blankets that will be surrounding his little body, all of the tubes and the wires, and the neck brace. Coral, Casey, and I walk into the room where Phoenix is at, and we start approaching the bed, and I’m not ready to see it. I’m not ready to see Phoenix like this, because his cheeks and his lips are still slightly bluish.

And that was probably the hardest thing for me to see. I scan his face more, and I, I see dried blood, and I see a black eye, and I see a really long cut. Where the black guy is, and that’s where the avalanche probe found him.

Coral, um, approaches the bed even closer and she grabs his hand and she won’t let go. And she starts saying his name over and over again. Phoenix. Phoenix. And I shit you not, it is just like the movies, you guys. Phoenix opens up his eyes and he looks at his sister. And then he looks at us. Uh, a few minutes later, they’re able to take off the neck brace and the tubes out of his mouth, and he’s, he’s having a little bit of a hard time talking, but he can talk to us, and he remembers everything.

Um, Phoenix was hit by an avalanche just plain in his backyard at almost 120 miles per hour. He walked away with a lacerated spleen, a bruised lung. Nasty concussion, a black eye, and one hell of a story that he now tells ladies in college because he’s doing great. Um, we, it happened ten years ago and we knew this day was coming and he’s, yeah.

Sorry Phoenix. Um, so we stay in the hospital for two more days and we had a lot of visitors at this time. Um, and. One of the visitors was the man who found Phoenix. He actually happened to live across the street from us. We didn’t live in that house for more than five months when it was hit by the avalanche, so we didn’t know our neighbors too well.

He had a son, Phoenix’s age, and when he heard the avalanche, he looked out his window, saw what happened, grabbed his tools, and just ran out there. He put himself in so much danger to search for three people. Those 75 plus other people put themselves in so much danger. That is amazing. That’s Missoula, right?

Um, unfortunately I can’t remember this man’s name. Trauma fucks with your head in a lot of different ways. Um, but I will forever be grateful to him. And not just for saving Phoenix’s life, but for saving mine. Thanks.

Thanks, Erin.
Erin Scoles is grateful to have lived such a full life. She’s given birth to 5 children, hitchhiked across the country, lived in a school bus before it was cool, endured huge loss and loved big. She’s most proud of her Irish heritage and how badass & compassionate her kids are. Erin looks forward to the day where she can focus on just one project at a time and for her kids to finally and truly admit she’s the funniest person that they know. For a link to the Missoulian article and to see the photograph of Erin from the front page that day, visit

Next up is Jen Certa

Jen shares her story about how a simple act of kindness helped eventually house an unhoused person, led to closure for a family, and reaffirmed her hope in humanity. Jen calls her story “Life, Death, and Teaspoons of water”. Thanks for listening.

Jen Certa: Sometimes, a small act of kindness and compassion, as simple as buying a stranger a sandwich, can change someone’s life, and maybe even their death. I know that sounds kind of strange, but I can tell you that it’s true. It was a crisp fall afternoon several years ago and my favorite co worker, Rebecca, and I were in the middle of our Friday afternoon ritual, what we refer to as get shit done time, and we were getting ready to kind of start wrapping up for the day when we were interrupted by three strangers who had just walked in the door of our office.

The strangers were a retired couple in their late 70s named Gingy and Pete, and a gruff, middle aged man named Michael, whom they had just met on their weekly lunch date. Gingy and Pete had noticed Michael sitting alone, not eating. He appeared to be carrying all of his worldly possessions in his backpack.

And so, um, They decided to invite Michael to join them for lunch, struck up a conversation, and learned that Michael was currently living in a tent in Greeno Park. He’d been having a really difficult time finding a job, getting a job, because he didn’t have an ID. And in order to get an ID, he needed a copy of his birth certificate, which he also didn’t have.

He had explained that recently he’d actually been scammed by someone in town who had claimed they could help him get his birth certificate for a fee, and then disappeared with Michael’s money. So, Gingy and Pete thought maybe we could help. And I’ll be honest with you. For a minute, I did consider passing the buck.

Sending Michael to somebody else that could help him. Because, technically, it wasn’t actually my job to help a random stranger get a birth certificate from another state. And I did have other slightly more urgent shit to do. But the expression on Michael’s face told me everything that I needed to know.

I could see that he didn’t really trust other people. And he definitely didn’t have much faith that I would be any different than anybody else who had already tried to help him with his predicament. Now, something you need to know about me is that I am pretty competitive and definitely stubborn, and I was not willing to be another person that let Michael down.

And besides that, if someone even so much as hints that they think I can’t do something, then to that I say, challenge accepted. Hold my pile of work I’m supposed to be doing instead, and watch this. I quickly found the number for the Minnesota office of vital records, and dialed, hoping not everyone had gone home for the weekend already.

And miraculously, Debbie answered. Hi, Debbie. My name is Jen, and I’m a social worker in Missoula, Montana. I’m here with Michael, and he has been having a heck of a time trying to get his birth certificate. He really needs it so he can get a job. And Debbie, he has just been given the runaround. Gosh, I just know, Debbie, there has to be something that you and I can do together to work this out today.

I’m really hoping you’re gonna be our gal. Now, Debbie did deliver. She directed us to a form that Michael needed to fill out, and some other bureaucratic hoops to jump through, since Michael didn’t have a permanent address. And it was all hands on deck that afternoon in the office. Anyone who was still there was running around, scrambling, trying to help Michael compile everything that he needed, get it notarized, get it to Debbie before it was 5 p.

m. in Minnesota. And finally, Debbie did let us know that Michael’s birth certificate would be arriving in about a week or so. I took the form that Michael had filled out with his information and tucked it away into a folder, just in case he needed it again, and we parted ways. Shortly after that, Michael did get his birth certificate, and then finally that ID.

And over the next several months, his life began to look a little bit like the opposite of a country music song. He got a job, he got a bank account, saved some money, he made some friends with coworkers, he kept in touch with Gingy and Pete, and eventually, he did move out of his tent in Greeno Park into more permanent housing.

And I wish that I could tell you that that is where the story ends. But on another Friday afternoon, almost about a year later, get shit done time was again interrupted. But this time, it was St. Pat’s Hospital, and they were calling to tell us that Michael was in the ICU on life support. When My co workers and I arrived at the hospital, confused, a short time later, the doctors told us that Michael had gone into cardiac arrest and collapsed, and that there really was little hope that he would ever recover brain function or wake up.

They had found Rebecca’s business card in his wallet, along with his ID, which is why they had called us. And they wanted to know if we had any idea how to contact Michael’s next of kin. Because someone was going to need to make some decisions about end of life care for Michael. And soon. Outside the hospital, buckets of rain poured over my windshield, pounded on the roof of my car.

As Rebecca and I sat inside it. We were absolutely gutted by the thought that Michael could die alone without anyone in his family having any idea what had happened. But he had never really said much to any of us about his past. We didn’t know anything about his family. Except, I still had that form that I had tucked away.

And on it, were his partents’ names and birthplaces. So, armed only with that information, and our phones, we started Googling.

We found his mother’s obituary, which did tell us that Michael had four sisters. Pam, Sue, Jane, and Michelle. And judging by the order of the names in the obituary, it was safe probably to assume that Michael was the youngest and all of them were older than him. That was the good news. The bad news was that it appeared that all four sisters were married.

No Last names were mentioned anywhere in the obituary, nor were any locations of where they might have lived. So, to recap, we’re now looking for four middle aged women from the Midwest with the names Pam, Sue, Jane, and Michelle, who may or may not still be living somewhere in the state of Minnesota.

Didn’t really narrow it down a whole lot. But somehow we found a phone, a list of phone numbers with people with those first names and we just started calling down the list. I left dozens of the same message over and over again. Hi, my name is Jen. I’m a social worker in Missoula, Montana. I’m looking for the sibling of Michael Smith.

If, if you know Michael, please give me a call back as soon as possible. Now. Um, honestly, I don’t know if either Rebecca or I truly thought that we would actually find any of them that way. But the next morning, I answered a phone call from a Minnesota area code. And on the phone, on the other end of the line, was Michael’s twin sister, Michelle.

She hadn’t seen her brother in 20 years, and she told me she’d been waiting for him. A long time, dreading getting a phone call like this. Michael’s four sisters all found last minute flights to Missoula, and arrived at the hospital the next day. They spent a long time with Michael, talked to his doctors, and made some really difficult decisions.

And the next afternoon, Michael died, with all four sisters of his sisters by his side. The day after that, Pam, Sue, Jane, and Michelle met us for breakfast. Though we had been strangers just a few days before, we now gathered together for a meal to celebrate Michael’s life. Gingy, Pete, my co workers, and I shared what we knew of Michael’s last year of his life in Missoula with them, and they shared stories with us about the brother that they had known.

And though it was clear there had definitely been some hurt and relationship rupture over the years between Michael and his sisters, there was also very clearly a lot of love. The sisters expressed their gratitude that they got to have some closure, that they knew with certainty what had happened to their brother, that they had had time to say goodbye and anything else left unsaid.

And that they knew Michael was not alone at the end of his life. And I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. In this particular moment of our collective history, when we are all witnessing, experiencing, enormous amounts of pain and suffering as human beings on this planet. And I don’t know about you, but I have been finding it really hard to not feel like I’m losing my faith in humanity right now.

To Not fall into despair or wonder if anything that I do actually matters in the grand scheme of things. Or if it’s basically the equivalent of trying to put out the massive raging dumpster fire that is the world right now with a teaspoon of water. And maybe it is, I don’t know. But then I also think about how it’s also true that Gingy and Pete saw a man sitting alone offered to buy him a sandwich.

And because of that That stranger didn’t die alone. In the story of Michael’s life and his death, Gingy and Pete, for me, really embody the words of humanitarian Albert Schweitzer when he says, Each of us can always do a little to bring some portion of misery to an end. They remind me that Even a small act of kindness can have vast ripple effects that expand outward further than we can even imagine.

And that, that’s what gives me some amount of hope for the rest of us and our teaspoons of water too. Thank you.

Marc Moss:

Thanks, Jen.
Jen Certa is originally from New York, and accidentally began a love affair with Montana in 2009. She is a social worker and currently works as a therapist with kids and families, which basically means she’ll help you process your feelings after she beats you at Uno. When not at work, Jen can most often be found traversing the trails around Missoula with human and dog friends, guessing people’s Enneagram numbers, and/or running late for something.

Coming up after the break: “Never forget. On 9/11, we leaned into each other, recognizing our shared humanity.” “Death. It’s final, it’s in your face, it’s unforgiving.”

Stay with us.

Remember that we are currently looking for storytellers for the next Tell Us Something storytelling event. The theme is “Close to the Edge”. If you’d like to pitch your story for consideration, please call 406-203-4683. You have 3 minutes to leave your pitch. Our friends from the Deaf community are welcome to pitch by emailing [email protected].

The pitch deadline is February 17th. I look forward to hearing from you.Thank you to our Title Sponsor Blackfoot Communications. Learn more about them at Thank you to our Story Sponsors who help us to pay our storytellers. Missoula Electric Coop , a member-owned rural electric cooperative that serves electricity to members in parts of Montana and Idaho. You can learn more at Thanks to our second story sponsor, The Kettlehouse who strives to match the quality of their beers to the quality of the Montana outdoor experience. Learn more about them at Thank you to our Accessibility Sponsor, Reep Bell and Jasper allowing us to hire American Sign Language interpreters at this event in order to be a more inclusive experience. Learn more about them at

Thanks to our media sponsors,, and Missoula Broadcasting Company learn more about Missoula Broadcasting Company and listen online at

Thanks to our in-kind sponsors: Float Missoula – learn more at and Joyce of Tile – learn about Joyce and the work that she does at Joyce of

Alright, let’s get back to the stories. You are listening to the Tell Us Something podcast, I’m Marc Moss.

Next up is Jennifer Robohm. Jennifer recounts her 9/11 experience, witnessing the tragedy, offering help, and cherishing acts of unity amidst chaos and despair in NYC. Jennifer calls her story “As the Dust Settled”.

Thanks for listening.

Jennifer Robham: It was a beautiful Tuesday morning, and I soaked in the sun and the clear blue sky on my way into work. I was already at my desk by a quarter to nine, drinking coffee and chatting with a colleague when we heard a truck backfire really loudly outside. It was so loud that it made us both jump. And then we laughed at ourselves like you do.

We thought nothing of it. Until we noticed the sirens. I called a friend who worked in finance because she had a news feed at her desk. Hey, what’s going on by City Hall? She told me a Cessna had just crashed into the World Trade Center.

My office building was three blocks from where the tower stood. I sat at a cubicle on the 11th floor, but I’d go to a small office to make private phone calls. I loved that part of my job because I’d lean back in my chair and I’d look out the window at those unbelievably tall buildings. They were incredible.

But on the morning of 9 11, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The North Tower was in flames, cut in half by the jetliner. Dark plumes of smoke billowed up into the sky and reams of office paper fluttered downward like falling leaves.

I called my parents and we were just trying to make sense of what was happening when the South Tower was hit. By then, my dad was watching on TV, but I couldn’t see the plane. I thought a fireball had exploded from the first building to the second. My father was six foot four, but his voice sounded small when he begged me to find safety.

But daddy, I don’t know where to go. So I stayed, bearing witness. I was still at my post close to an hour later. No, no, no, no, no, no. Fucking God. Fucking God! Fucking God.

There was a low rumbling, and then the South Tower collapsed under its own weight, pancaking to the street below. A huge cloud of dust and debris engulfed the pedestrians who scattered like ants. The, the cloud overtook them one by one, and then slammed in my window and shook our building. And then everything went dark.

I turned to run and nearly tripped over a Latina woman who was watching over my shoulder. She was now crumpled on the ground, being consoled by a friend. Her boyfriend worked in that tower. We all thought we just watched him and thousands of people die.

A garbled voice over the PA system evacuated us to the basement. We were down there for several hours in shock. I was so rattled, I actually asked if we were going to have our staff meeting.

There were no windows, but that’s where we learned that the North Tower had collapsed. We also heard that the Washington Monument in Las Vegas had been destroyed. I guess imaginations run wild when they’ve seen the unimaginable.

An African American woman burst in through the door from the street. She was covered in dust, her hair, her face, every inch of her clothing. And she was absolutely hysterical. I remember thinking, Jen, you’re a psychologist, do something. So I walked her to a quiet corner and helped her lie down and try to slow her panicked breathing.

Her eyes were wide, but sometimes she’d clench them shut. The images that must have been seared there. She grabbed my hand as she told me about being evacuated from her building and then having to run when the second tower collapsed. And then she collapsed into sobbing.

An older woman knelt beside us. She stroked the traumatized woman’s hair. She whispered as she cleaned the dust from her face. It’s okay, baby. Everything’s gonna be okay.

Eventually, they told us we could leave. But the dust covered woman was too afraid. I was desperate to get out of there. The phones were down and I wanted to go and find my partner. But we stayed until we could convince her it would be safe. And then a police officer escorted the woman back out to the street, where it now looked like several inches of dirty snow had fallen.

Um, the older woman and I. We were complete strangers, but we kissed on the lips and we hugged for several seconds before going outside. We were the last ones to leave and I never saw either of those women again.

Back outside, it was chaos. The air was acrid and smoky and the sirens were relentless. The police, uh, sent us toward the Brooklyn Bridge. I changed into volleyball sneakers and ran. I was terrified that another plane would come at any second to take out the bridge or the thousands of people who were streaming across it with me.

Some of them were walking, slowly. They stared straight ahead toward Brooklyn, where the sky was still that gorgeous blue. But others stopped, like I did, and looked back over their shoulders. Where the towers used to be, there was nothing but dust and smoke and debris.

If there is a hell, I know what it looks like. It’s been over

20 years now. I’m getting old.

What I remember most vividly about that fall morning are small gestures of kindness and courage. The man who carried my co worker down the stairs to the basement because she was too grief stricken to walk. My companion who comforted the dust covered woman lying in tears on the floor. The teenagers who sheepishly offered us water on the far side of the Brooklyn Bridge.

And neighbors who lined up late into the night to donate blood, none of which was needed. My first responders were ordinary people. No special training or equipment, just the impulse to do something, anything to make a shitty day just a little bit better for someone else.

After 9 11, I couldn’t cry for days. Not until our sonogram on the 14th made me weep with conflicted joy. We were gonna have a son. I love you, Jack.

It was several weeks before we could return to our office building, and many months before the piles stopped burning and the subways were restored. It was well over a year before we weren’t evacuated constantly due to bomb threats and anthrax scares. And maybe two years before I could hear a low flying airplane without flinching.

Whenever I’d leave New York City, I was surprised to discover that everyone else had moved on. I guess because it was no longer happening to them.

But New Yorkers continued to be kinder to each other. We hugged more. We made more eye contact. We gave up our seats on the train. And when we asked other people how they were doing, we actually slowed down to hear the answer. Honestly, those are some of my fondest memories of the city.

They say, never forget. I wear a subway token around my neck to remind me. I think about that day every September, of course. But I also thought about it a lot during the pandemic, and I think about it now when I despair about climate change and war and the existential threats we’re facing. I can’t help but wonder which version of us is going to show up.

If you’re looking for hope, maybe I can offer you this. On 9 11, we leaned into each other, recognizing our shared humanity. We worked together despite our differences because we needed each other to survive. We understood that looking out for ourselves meant looking out for other people. And we rose to the occasion, even when really hard things were happening.

In my darkest moments, that’s what I choose to remember. About that horrible, and yet beautiful, Tuesday morning. Thank you.

Marc Moss:
Thanks, Jennifer.
Jennifer Robohm moved to Montana from the East Coast to be closer to her twin sister and to have an adventure. That adventure turned into a life! Jen is a clinical psychologist who’s been teaching at the University of Montana for close to 20 years. She lives in Missoula with her partner, Nadia; her son, Jack, is a UM senior. Jen loves the Missoula community and the Montana outdoors.

Closing out this episode of the Tell Us Something, podcast, Linds Sanders recounts a series of encounters in which strangers share their deep grief with her, painting profound connections amid loss, teaching empathy, and illuminating the beauty in life’s small, poignant details.

Linds calls her story “Peanut Butter & Peonies”

Thanks for listening.

Linds Sanders: Okay.

Eat the mic. That was from our storyteller workshop.

When I was 18, I worked at the KOA call center. People would call in asking for directions to campsites, change their campsite reservation, But most often, they call to get their password changed for their online account. Back then, you couldn’t get a password reset email, you had to call the 1 800 number, and that was me.

I took dozens of these calls a day, and I assured people, I will not remember your password. One afternoon, a man called in, he must have been in his 70s or 80s, to change his password. Took about two minutes, I don’t remember his password. I asked him, is there anything else I can help you with? And almost in response to that question, he let me know this was the first time he was traveling since his wife died.

They started traveling when they had kids. But then their kids grew up and became adults and had families of their own, but they just kept traveling because they loved it so much. She would make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for their road trips, and she’d kiss him on the cheek when they crossed state lines.

He’s trying to make those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It should be pretty simple, he says, but they just don’t taste the same. And that’s everything since she’s been gone. Maybe it should be straightforward, but he just can’t seem to do it. He laments that he should probably let me go now, and he hangs up the phone.

There’s this flat screen television above my head, listing my name and my co workers names, tracking the duration of our phone calls. My name is in red, highlighting inefficiency. The 38 minutes.

Fast forward a couple years and I’m a student at the University of Montana. I’m doing an art assignment drawing outside under the shade of a cedar tree. And, uh, there’s a football game apparently. It has concluded. Someone won. And now there’s this ocean of people dressed in maroon and gray leeching out of the stadium in all directions.

I am feeling so grateful that I chose this, like, meandering path that is off of the main arterial sidewalks that leads to the parking lots. Still, a woman straggles from the crowd, comes down my pathway. I don’t look up from my drawing, I figure she’ll just keep walking by. But then I feel her presence next to me.

She says to me, do you know what this building is? Now, there are a lot of beautiful buildings on campus. This is not one of them. It is this anonymous brick rectangle. I tell her, I don’t. She says, this is where my husband worked for 18 years. He was a botanist studying ferns and he died recently. I’m paying attention now.

This building is important. She says to me, my whole garden is ferns now. I tore up all the flowers, it’s all ferns. And when they erupt from the ground and spring and unfurl their leaves, I think of him and I miss him every day. And she’s starting to cry now. And just as abruptly as she’s come into my life, she turns and she leaves, walking down the path, rejoining that ocean of maroon and gray.

Now, maybe this would be strange if it weren’t for this reoccurring phenomenon in my life of strangers telling me their grief stories. Sometimes they last for 38 minutes, sometimes for 2 minutes, sometimes for 2 hours, like it did last summer. I just finished hiking Mount Sentinel, the mountain behind our campus.

Um, I live nearby, so the trailhead is walking distance from home. When I was on the top, there had been a summer thunderstorm that rolled in, and I had to bolt down and gain cover under trees. But now, the thunder had moved on, the rain had subsided, the clouds were still hanging in the air. I came down the trailhead, trekking poles in hand, my headphones in, I’m listening to my audio book, I pass by a man chatting, and he’s talking to me.

I, uh, put on my headphones, what? He asked me, have you seen the peony garden? The man, he’s in his 60s, dark wash, denim jeans. buttoned shirt. Baseball cap on. And the peony garden he’s referring to is the memorial peony garden, with over a hundred varieties of peonies. And they are in bloom and their flowers are the size of ice cream scoops, and they are white, and pink, and yellow, and, I tell him, in fact I have, and it’s one of my favorite places of Missoula.

He says to me, Peony are my wife’s favorite flower, and today is our 40th wedding anniversary. She died two years ago. And this is always how the conversations start, with this blunt admission of death. And that’s death. It’s final, it’s in your face, it’s unforgiving. And he’s seeing how I’m going to respond.

Am I going to ignore what he said? Oh, yeah, you know, there’s a western peony in this garden? Am I gonna put up a wall of sympathy? Oh, I am so sorry for your loss, that’s terrible. Or will I lean in? Which is what I try to always do. I learn not only were peony her favorite flower, but turtles were her favorite animal, and he would call her my little turtle.

I learned about the life that they built together, that she was a teacher, that she fought cancer, and I learned of how she died when the cancer returned, and that their back porch was her favorite place to watch sunsets, and how his friends and family rallied behind him when the grief first happened, but now that it’s been a couple of years, he feels embarrassed and like he can’t really lean into their support anymore.

Now, I want to keep talking, but my legs are really tired. I just hiked that mountain. But these transitions are tricky. We can transition deeper, and it’s also a chance to transition out. So I kind of edge towards a bench, and I invite him to sit down, and he does. And there’s this mutual trust between us that we both are enjoying this conversation, and we both want to continue.

And so we do, we keep talking as the clouds turn yellow and orange and underline in pink, leading us to another transition. It will be dark soon. So I offer to walk him back to his hotel. He’s just passing through. This area of town, everything is nearby, and it’s cleaved in half at the Clark Fork River, along which is the bike path.

And so we walk along it together, and we’re talking about poetry and travel and the West Coast, and it might sound like we’re not talking about grief anymore, but that’s the thing about grief. It’s like the central nervous system of a body. If you take away the skin, the bones, the muscle, and leave behind just the nervous system, you will still see a perfect outline of the human body down to the intricacies of a fingertip.

That’s grief. It holds us all together, and some days it threatens to tear us apart. But tonight, I like to believe it held us together and bound us to one another. I say goodbye to him in the parking lot of his hotel and begin my walk home alone, trekking poles in hand, headphones around my neck. And it might sound like I’m the kind stranger in these stories, but I disagree.

It is them who have taught me the importance of buildings that some people just walk on by. How complicated a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can be. And the real beauty of a peony flower. They have taken the time to introduce me to the most beloved people in their life. This world could not afford to lose, but lost anyways.

The thing is, I have my own grief. A grief that has me with one foot firmly planted on this stage and another foot in the land of what if. A grief that has me looking for something I lost and I just can’t seem to find it. A grief that has me against all odds wishing that there was one person in this audience sitting next to one of you.

And I know that she’s not.

That grief can be pretty isolating sometimes.

But as I walk home in the dark, streetlights coming on, I feel a glow. I feel gratitude. And thanks to the kindness of these strangers, I don’t feel so alone.

Thanks, Linds.
Linds Sanders is a Montanan who has a habit of saying “yes” to experiences that scare her such as saving house spiders, learning to rock climb, working with preteens, and–most recently–sharing a story at Tell Us Something. It’s much easier for her to pursue the passions she loves such as poetry, art, traveling, and spending time with friends and strangers alike. Currently, she is in graduate school pursuing a degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with an interest in grief work. She works as a counseling intern at Tamarack Grief Resource Center where she has the honor of holding close the stories of others. Learn more about Linds at

Remember that the next Tell Us Something event is March 266th. You can learn about how to pitch your story and get tickets at

Four storytellers share their true personal story on the theme “Neighbors". Their stories were recorded live in-person in front of a packed stadium on June 16, 2023 at Ogren Park at Allegiance Field in Missoula, MT in collaboration with Missoula Pride. You'll hear stories about a verbal love letter to his grandmother, leading with love, making compassionate choices, and a lifechanging hike to Hop Lake in the Big Hole Valley of Montana.

Transcript : Neighbors - Part 2

Neighbors Part 2

[00:00:00] Marc Moss: Welcome to the tell us something podcast. I’m Marc Moss. We’re currently looking for storytellers for the next tell us something storytelling event. The theme is lost in translation. If you’d like to pitch your story for consideration, please call 406 203 4683. You have three minutes to leave your pitch.

The pitch deadline is August 20th. I look forward to hearing from you soon. I’ll call you as soon as I get your pitch. This week on the podcast.

[00:00:29] Devin Carpenter: Uh, I noticed that there is a woman standing outside my bedroom, tapping on the window and holding this white bag in the air. And then I get excited because I realize this is not just some woman.

This is Mimi. This is my grandma. And what I need to do is go very quietly, let her in the house. And I go let Mimi in the front door and we sit down and we open up this white bag. And we share a couple glazed donut holes, just the two of us before we go wake up everyone [00:01:00] else and then share with them as well.

[00:01:02] Sarah Black: The best explanation that I have for this is that it’s like I was walking down this path and it’s nighttime. And queerness is like a house, with the lights on, and I can see the people inside, and I want to go in, but I don’t know those people, and I don’t live in that house, and the door is closed. And then I met Louis.

[00:01:31] Whitney Peper: And he’s going, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, can I get a ride? And Tracy’s

[00:01:34] Cathy Scholtens: like, yeah, get in the car. And I’m like,

[00:01:37] Whitney Peper: whoa, no, no, no, no. And I, I like, barricade the door and trap him inside. And Tracy’s behind me and JP’s standing next to me. And I go, JP, call the cops. And JP’s like, no, we’re not calling the

[00:01:51] Cathy Scholtens: cops.

And we see this hawk coming up the North Ridge, and she’s floating on those drafts, and just floating and floating, [00:02:00] and pretty soon, she’s right here. She’s right above us. If I had stood on my tiptoes, I could have touched her. Now, I’m not no hoogity boogity, new age, woo woo, mystical girl, I’m not, look at me, oh my god, okay?


[00:02:18] Marc Moss: storytellers share their true personal story on the theme, Neighbors. Their stories were recorded in person in front of a live audience June 16th, 2003 at Ogren Park at Allegiance Field in Missoula, Montana. We are proud to have partnered with Missoula Pride for this event, which featured six queer voices and two allies.

At the event, I acknowledge that Tell Us Something has a lot of privilege. We welcome all respectful voices and at this event. We used our privilege to elevate marginalized forces. And if I say that I must in good faith, give up the microphone. So I did two members of the Missoula queer community took over the MC duties for the evening to honor and respect the work that they did.

They will follow up each [00:03:00] story on today’s podcast. Cara Rivera and Devin Carpenter were the MCs that evening.

Tell us something acknowledges with deep respect and gratitude that we are on the ancestral lands of the Pendlay, Salish, and Kootenai peoples who have stewarded this land for countless generations. Their profound connection to the earth and its resources has left an indelible mark on the landscape we now call home.

In recognizing their enduring legacy, we are called to be steadfast stewards of this land, nurturing its diversity, preserving its ecosystems, and upholding the principles of environmental sustainability. May we honor the wisdom of our ancestors and embrace our responsibility to protect and preserve this precious land for future generations, fostering a harmonious coexistence with nature that celebrates our shared heritage.

We take this moment to honor the land It’s native people and the stories that they share with us. Our first story comes to us from [00:04:00] Devin Carpenter, who shares a verbal love letter to his grandmother, who taught him to be a good neighbor and to be bold, he calls his story Mimi on my Shoulder. Thanks for listening.

[00:04:17] Devin Carpenter: So it’s about eight o’clock in the morning on a typical Saturday and seven year old me is fast asleep. And into my dreams, I start to hear this sort of subtle yet persistent tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. And as I wake up, I noticed that there’s a woman standing outside my bedroom, tapping on the window and holding this white bag in the air.

And then I get excited because I realize this is not just some woman. This is Mimi. This is my grandma. Uh, and what I need to do is go very quietly, let her in the house. Uh, and so I very carefully creep down the wooden bunk bed, [00:05:00] uh, so I don’t wake up my little brother Austin, who’s sleeping below. I sneak past my little brother Zachary’s bedroom, past my parents bedroom, and I go let Mimi in the front door.

And we sit down and we open up this white bag and we share a couple glazed donut holes. Just the two of us before we go wake up everyone else and then share with them as well. And this is just one of the many silly little things that my grandmother and I would do together as a kid. Um, I am extremely close to Mimi.

You see, I’m the oldest of seven grandchildren. So by default, I’m the favorite. Um, and, uh, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve really realized, uh, just how profound of an impact Mimi has had on my life, and how I choose to show up in the world. Um, and what it really boils down to, are two lessons. The [00:06:00] first is to be a good neighbor.

Uh, you see, I grew up in the same small town, Lompoc, California, where Vandenberg Air Force Base is, that my mom and her two sisters grew up in. And so Mimi and Papa have lived in the same place for almost 50 years and have really built a community of people around them. Uh, their house sits up kind of on a corner, raised above everyone else’s, and as you stand at the kitchen sink, you look out across the lawn that my grandpa zero scaped over the years and past the hedges where the blue bellied lizards, you know, the ones that if you try to catch them, their tail rips off, um, where they would sun in the summertime, and you can see kind of the whole neighborhood out where everything is.

And what I noticed over sort of observing my grandmother is just how Very small interactions can lead to really meaningful relationships. And things like Mrs. Pickles next door coming over to bring over the Sunday paper because they would share it among [00:07:00] all kinds of ladies in the neighborhood so they could get the most coupons because they all use different brands and so they were maximizing their coupons.

Or if it was Mimi sending me across the street to go visit Ruthie because she could see me go all the way across the street and so I’d go hang out with Ruthie and she usually had some kind of sweet treat to give me. Or is my grandmother making jam from her boysenberry bushes and giving it to the other neighbors?

Um, and these sorts of small interactions can lead to a type of community where you are sort of forced to rely on other people, but it’s a two way street. You’re, you’re also providing something to others and that builds into something larger. The second lesson was… It’s to live boldly. And boldness can take shape in many forms.

Uh, Mimi was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, um, and as she started to lose her hair, rather than letting that sort of demoralize her, she decided to be silly about it. And so she would [00:08:00] hide costumes around the house and would wear them at the most inopportune times. Um, so you’d be sitting at the dinner table and next thing you know she’d pull out a pair of Groucho Marx sunglasses with the big nose and the mustache.

Or she would wear one of those furline trapper john hats to church. Um, or she would bring, uh, boa, uh, feather boas to her exercise class so that everyone could wear one and be a little silly. Boldness is also sassy, too, and so one particular time, this was in Colorado, we moved there when I was 10, we’re at the commissary on base and this woman, uh, is not using good grocery store etiquette.

Uh, so Mimi nicknames her the General’s Wife because the only person with the audacity to act like that must be the General’s Wife. And she, General’s Wife leaves her cart in the middle of the aisle and wanders away, and so Mimi takes it. And hides it a couple aisles in the other direction. , uh, and I mortified running the other direction as well, [00:09:00] and it’s this kind of boldness that I really have taken with me as well.

Uh, 2008 was a big year for my family. Not only did the cancer happen, but we were also moving to Montana. Um, I was starting college and my family was. being stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base. Um, and so this was really the first time where I was forced with figuring out how I wanted to exist. I was moving out on my own, starting college.

It’s when I started really exploring my sexuality. It’s when I figured out how I wanted to take up space and use my voice for social justice and activism. Um, and I also had to decide what kind of friends I wanted to have and how I wanted to build that community for myself. Um, and so I really found my friends in the music scene here, and the best way that I can explain this is, again, through a series of seemingly small interactions that cascade into larger things, and so it can be as simple as being in the pit at a concert, and you see someone who had one too many mushroom chocolates, and you offer them water, and then [00:10:00] you talk to them, and you add them on social media, and then Months later you’re looking for a ride to go to a mountain party in Billings and they know someone who’s going and so you hop in the car with these strangers and talk for the next six hours as you drive to Billings and then you spend the weekend surviving at a rave in the forest and you get to know them through those interactions and not only is that being a good neighbor but it’s also quite bold to do those kinds of things and so this really comes to a head for me.

Uh, in one particular moment, it was a typical Saturday, uh, I was in the alleyway behind the Badlander, um, and I wasn’t, uh, none of my really close friends were there, but people I knew, some of these acquaintances were there, and I noticed that there were these people who were talking about me, they were actually, they were making fun of the clothes that I was wearing, it’s actually this jacket is what they were talking about, um, and they were using some not so nice words about how flamboyantly I was dressed, um, and so.

I did the thing that [00:11:00] Mimi would do and I yelled back at them. Um, and next thing I know, I, there’s a semi circle of men standing around me, uh, demanding that I apologize to them. And, uh, the people around me were encouraging me to apologize. Um, and I will never forget the moment. Where I consciously decided I would rather get beat up in this alleyway than apologize to these

[00:11:29] Whitney Peper: people.

[00:11:35] Devin Carpenter: And I didn’t know it then, but I know now that Mimi was standing behind me saying, those are not good neighbors. Be bold. And thankfully two people who I knew a little bit, maybe not super well, Nico and Tiffany. And,

[00:12:00] as luck would have it, we’ve actually become great friends. Nico has tattooed Mimi’s handwriting on my body, and Tiffany, who’s here, I just spent the night in the emergency room with her when she broke her collarbone a couple weeks ago. And so we are still very good friends. And I wish that the story ended here, uh, but there was one more lesson that Mimi had to teach me.

Um, I mentioned that she was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, um, and that continued over the years with different kinds and strokes and things and just this past February I got the call that I have been dreading for over a decade. And my mom told me that I should get on a plane and I should pack a suit.

And so I went with the intention of being there for two weeks. Um, my parents from Denver, me from Montana, my aunt Karen from DC, my aunt Julie from Northern California, all arrived in that same driveway that we [00:13:00] spent our childhood in with the hedges and the lizards within a matter of moments. And seven hours later, as we were arguing over who was going to stay awake to give Mimi her medicine, she died.

And in the chaos that ensued in the days to come, I found myself standing in the kitchen, trying to look at anything besides anyone else’s face. And so I did the logical thing and just started reading everything that was on the refrigerator. And I came across a magnet that said, Angels are sometimes disguised as neighbors.

[00:13:54] Kera Rivera: I’m not crying, you’re crying. Devin Carpenter is a Colorado [00:14:00] Tannin who has lived in Pennsylvania and New York and is joined tonight by his mom, Patty, and his dad, Jeff, who did not know he was telling this story. Growing up on a military base and moving throughout his life has greatly influenced the way Devin sees the world and how he approaches relationships with others.

Devin calls Missoula home and has been deeply involved in building communities through activism and social engagement since he arrived here to start college at the University of Montana in 2008. Devin left Montana in 2015 to pursue a master’s degree in higher education at Penn State and found his way right back to take on his current role as the director of new student success at UM.

In his free time, Devin is likely listening to his record collection, cooking a meal from scratch, drinking a shady at the former Kettle House Southside with his friends, dancing in the dark, or some combination of all

[00:14:55] Marc Moss: four. Our next storyteller is Sarah Black. [00:15:00] Sarah leaves her husband for another love and another life.

Her parents hear the news with a lot of questions and a lot of grace. Though, she isn’t as graceful when her spouse brings unexpected news to her. When she leads with love, she knows she’s hearing the news the best way that she can. Sarah calls her story, Lead with Love. Thanks for listening.

[00:15:27] Sarah Black: There’s a path that I was supposed to follow. Um, I was supposed to marry a cisgender man. They don’t specify cisgendered, but it’s just assumed that that’s what they’re talking about. Cause there’s no other kind, right? I was supposed to have kids, eventually grandkids, and me and this man were supposed to grow old together.

I wasn’t sure if this was the right path for me. [00:16:00] Um, I thought it might be, because I did, actually, fall in love with, and then marry a cisgender man. But I was also queer. Um, it didn’t complicate things right away, because I didn’t know what that looked like for me. Um, I… I didn’t have a lot of role models when I was younger, and, um, the ones that I had I couldn’t really relate to.

The best explanation that I have for this is that it’s like I was walking down this path, and it’s night time, and, Queerness is like a house with the lights on and I can see the people inside and I want to go in, but I don’t know those people and I don’t live in that house [00:17:00] and the door is closed. And then I met Lewis and the door opened and it turns out that I do live there and I do know those

[00:17:13] Whitney Peper: people.

[00:17:21] Sarah Black: So then it got a little complicated because, um, I still loved this man that I married. Um, but I was also falling in love with Louis.

I, um, I felt like my marriage was unraveling. I would have kept the both of them if I could, but that wasn’t an option. Um, So, um, I had to kind of start letting him go. And I felt like no matter how you [00:18:00] told the story, I was the villain. And not like a sexy villain, more like the kind of villain who loses everyone close to them and then proceeds to make terrible life decisions.

And I didn’t want to be that. villain. So, um, I reached out to a friend, the one person that I could think of who had been through something sort of similar, because I thought he might understand. And he did more than understand. He listened to me fret endlessly. And then he said, look, you can’t do this wrong.

I was like, I can’t do this, right? He was like, no lead with love and you can’t do it wrong.[00:19:00]

So I came out to a few more friends that went pretty well. And then I had to come out to my parents. I had to tell them that my marriage was ending. I’m in a new relationship. And I’m bisexual, like in all in the same conversation, right around Christmas time. Merry Christmas.

My mom had a lot of questions. I don’t blame her. That’s a lot. And I didn’t really have all the answers, but I felt like I owed it to her to try. It was a hard conversation. And then my dad, who had been kind of [00:20:00] quiet through all this, spoke up and said, The most important thing is that we love you.

So let me just go back real quick and tell you about Lewis and how I met him. We worked at a Starbucks together in New York. And this particular Starbucks… It had a walk in freezer that was an absolute nightmare. I don’t think they make them like this any I really hope they don’t make them like this anymore.

Um, you open the door, and the first compartment is a refrigerator, and then there’s a second door, and you have to go through that to get to the freezer. And there’s no other way into this freezer, it butts up against the wall. So… [00:21:00] Every time that door is like hanging open, condensation builds around the door frame so that when you close it, it freezes.

And that makes it very difficult to get into the freezer and it also makes it very difficult to get out of the freezer. So it was just this terrifying exercise. Um. Because we would prop it open and it would just build up more condensation and then it would freeze.

Some kind soul had left his red soccer warm up sweatshirt on a hook right outside the freezer for anyone to use whenever they went in there. And I love that sweatshirt. Um. I felt a connection to the person who owned it even before I knew who it [00:22:00] was. Um, and I loved having access to it because I get cold real easy.

[00:22:11] Whitney Peper: Um,

[00:22:15] Sarah Black: and that’s just kind of who Lewis is. Um, he just provides you with the thing you need before you even know that you need it.

So, um, turned out. I kind of liked him, he kind of liked me, we eventually did get married, we have an awesome daughter, um, and we moved back to Montana to be closer to my folks. And um, then about 10 years into our relationship, he says, I’ve taken this body as far masculine as I can and it’s not far enough.

I need to transition. He gave me [00:23:00] permission to tell you this, by the way.

Now, as someone who has come out and faced clumsy reactions to it, I would like to tell you that I handled this very gracefully, uh, but I cannot. Um, I loved him and I knew that it wasn’t going to break us up, but it didn’t break us. I was a little scared about how the hormones would change him. Like, I don’t know, he was going to become a big grumpy Hulk monster or something.

I don’t know what I thought was going to happen,

but he did change. Um, but not at all in the ways that I was afraid he would on the outside. He’s a little different, but on the inside, he is exactly the same person he always was. [00:24:00] Except that now he’s a little more comfortable, well a lot more comfortable in his body and in his life than I have ever known him.

And gender congruency has been just, that’s where your insides and your outsides match. Um, has just been such a huge relief for him that he now has more capacity for the bullshit of the world. And more capacity for the bullshit of his wife, which is good news for me. So, I guess I went a little bit off the path that I was supposed to be on.

But, I wouldn’t take it back, ever. I mean, once you get to be yourself, it’s, you just have so much freedom to keep going. [00:25:00] Um, And I don’t know where we’re going next with this. Uh, hopefully Hawaii. I kind of want to check out three tables now.

Um, all I know is lead with love and you can’t do it wrong. Thank you.

[00:25:23] Whitney Peper: Sarah

[00:25:23] Kera Rivera: Black grew up in Helena, Montana. After high school, she moved around several times and is happy to reside in Missoula and live closer to family. She is fascinated by wellness, art, the outdoors, social justice, storytelling, and all the ways they intersect.

[00:25:41] Whitney Peper: Coming up. And he’s going, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, can I get a ride?

And Tracy’s like, yeah, get in the car. And I’m like, no, no, no, no, no. And I, I like barricade the door and trap him inside and Tracy’s behind me and JP’s standing next to me. And I go. JP, call the cops. And [00:26:00] JP’s like, no, we’re not calling the cops.

[00:26:05] Cathy Scholtens: And we see this hawk coming up the North Ridge and she’s floating on those drafts and just floating and floating and pretty soon she’s right here. She’s right above us. If I had stood on my tiptoes, I could have touched her. Now, I’m not no hoogity boogity new age woo woo mystical girl. I’m not look at me.

Oh my God. Okay.

[00:26:32] Marc Moss: Those stories after a word from our sponsors, stay with us. Thank you to our stewardship sponsor, university of Montana summer office. Thank you to our story sponsors, AXIS Physical Therapy and Hindu Hillbilly. Thank you to our accessibility sponsor, Blackfoot Communications. Our next story comes to us from Whitney Pepper.

Whitney and his partner make compassionate choices to the news that there is a strange man under his mother in [00:27:00] law’s bed. Whitney calls the story, The Right House. Thanks for listening.

[00:27:18] Whitney Peper: It was spring of 2022, just over a year ago, here in Missoula, Montana. It was a cool morning, crisp air, and we had the doors flung open in our house to let that beautiful spring warmth start coming in because our windows are all painted shut. But this was not just any day. This was, this was the sun coming back in a time of celebration.

Cause what had just taken place six months prior, leading up to this moment, was a ridiculous home renovation extravaganza. Which I took on and told my [00:28:00] partner we got this. Which I did not know how to do. And so, over six months we had completely gutted and completely renovated and torn apart this house involving every single person that I met on the street, anywhere.

I’m like, you wanna help? And we’re down to the details at this point. So it’s really a time of celebration, it had been chaos. And on this day… We were sleeping in, which was really nice. You know, we, I think we slept in that day. Um, oh, I should back up the, the context of my house. I’m living with my partner who grew up here in Missoula and my partner’s mother.

Who’s name is Tracy. My partner is JP. My partner’s name, uh, JP’s mom is Tracy. And Tracy moved back from Arizona to move to her hometown, Missoula, to move in with us. So this house renovation project involving ex husbands and family members and cousins and strangers, um, [00:29:00] has been a big deal. And Tracy…

Sleeps on the main floor in the small bedroom. It’s a very small house. You walk in and it’s just one space. There’s a little bedroom and then downstairs there’s the basement. That’s where JP and I sleep. So this morning we wake up. We’re down in the basement. We can hear Tracy getting up in the bedroom above us going off to the farmer’s market or to go grab lunch or something.

And we wake up this day and we’re down to the details. I’m planning to install smoke detectors, which is really exciting. Hmm. And, we put on music, I think it was the Bahamas, you know, like, Doom, doom, doom, is there some way, trick to being happy? Doom, doom, doom, most days I’m feeling like a half me. It’s, it’s a blissful morning.

And we’re out there, you know, JP’s cooking us breakfast or something. I’m working, smoke detectors, getting my stuff, getting my tools. And, uh, I go into Tracy’s room, which is on the main floor. JP’s, you know, [00:30:00] cooking breakfast and we’re grooving. I’m on the stool and I walk in though and I see that there’s a, a, a camel cigarette on Tracy’s bed.

And I think, that’s weird. Tracy doesn’t smoke. But… She is a spiritual woman, and I thought, you know, she’s got some native indigenous friends, and I thought, I know that tobacco is something used for ser I, my mind was just like I went about, I went about my business. Installed the smoke detector. And then I worked my way downstairs, and I’m in our bedroom.

I can hear the music. You know, JP’s dancing all around. And, uh, at some point, Tracy comes back. And I hear her come in, and our, I forgot to mention that our other housemate is a geriatric dog named Bayrock. He’s 18 years old. He’s a terrier. He’s a terrible guard dog. He’s more like a piece of furniture. And, um, I hear Tracy come back and I hear Bayrox shuffling his little, his nails on the [00:31:00] floor.

Shook, shook, shook, shook, shook, shook. And then, I hear Tracy going, Hey! Get out! Get out right now! What are you doing? Get out of there!

[00:31:10] Cathy Scholtens: And I’m thinking, what did he do?

[00:31:12] Whitney Peper: We don’t ever talk to Bayrock like that. And then JP screams down the stairs, Whitney, come upstairs. There’s a man under my mom’s bed.

And I run up the stairs, and I walk in, and there’s chaos. Tracy is in this tiny little bedroom where she’s got furniture not arranged appropriately, and you have to, you know, squeeze past, and there’s a man who’s emerging, a grown human man, Coming out from the bed. And what had happened is Tracy had gone in there and been like, Oh, why is Whitney’s shoe under my bed?

And she grabbed onto the shoe and there was a leg attached to it. [00:32:00] And the leg had a body attached to it and the body was moving. And Tracy’s response was Get out of there! What are you doing under my bed? And so I walk up and she’s like swatting him with a magazine. She’s a small woman. But she’s got this real sternness that I’ve never seen before.

And she’s swatting him, get out, get out! And he’s going, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, can I get a ride? And Tracy’s like, yeah, get in the car! And I’m like, no! No, no, no, no! And I, I like, barricade the door and trap him inside and Tracy’s behind me and JP’s standing next to me and I go… J. P., call the cops. And J.

P. ‘s like, no we’re not calling the cops. And I was like, shit, I just failed my test.

you want something to eat?

Eh, we give him a sparkly water. Sparkly water? Fizzy water. Spindrift. And [00:33:00] like a granola bar. And we’re sitting there and I’m like, what are you doing? He’s like, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I don’t. This is the first time I’ve ever done this. And I was like, what’s your name? And he goes, I’m Steve. We’re like, damn it, Steve,

[00:33:19] Cathy Scholtens: what are you

[00:33:20] Whitney Peper: doing here?

Why are you under my mother in law’s bed? He’s like, goes on this whole story that there was, you know, his ex wife has this abusive husband and, and he was trying to like help her out cause he’s abusive and then the guy was being attacking him and then there’s a car chase and he gets out of the car and he busts his ankle and, you know, it’s this whole story and I’m sitting there, you know, barricading the door just like, Oh, okay, Steve.

And finally, you know, Tracey leans over my shoulder at one point and she goes, You didn’t steal anything, did ya? And he’s like, No, no, no, I did not. And I looked down and I was like, Steve, you’re wearing my shoes! And he’s like, [00:34:00] I’m sorry! And it’s sad, you know? But then I remember, earlier that day, I could not believe that this had happened.

And I forgot, earlier that day, at our neighbor’s house next door, I had looked out the window, when I’m like, dancing and eating and And having a great time, celebrating. And there was like a whole SWAT team coming in on the house next door. And my neighbor, the person who owns the house, had called me and been like, hey, the cops are looking for somebody, he’s on the run, and they think he’s hiding out in our house, which was vacant.

And I was like, that’s terrible, that’s terrifying. And it was really frightening though, you look out and it was like. It’s like, police with assault rifles, you know, it’s just not expected. It was frightening. And then nothing happened and they went on and we danced and I was installing smoke detectors and now we’re here and I’m looking at this guy.

And at a certain point I go, Steve, you [00:35:00] lucked out because the background, you, you, Tracy is a nurse who works at St. Pat’s in the behavioral health unit. clinic, and has a lot of experience caring for people in various situations. She’s got experience. J. P. has an entire career in criminal justice reform, working with people who are incarcerated, doing embodiment work, and meditation work, and helping people heal, and you got, and then you got me, and I’m just a nice guy.

And so, Steve’s got the dream team, and I’m like, Dammit Steve! You picked the right house. This could have gone so poorly for you. Do you understand that we’re in Montana? Seriously, Steve? I mean, finally, I finally, like, stopped barricading. I was like, I don’t even know why I’m doing this. I’m trapping him in the bedroom that we’re like, Get out!

But I let him come out, and I would [00:36:00] offer him a chair, but we’re hippie people, and we don’t have chairs, we sit on the floor. And he’s got this busted ankle, and he, so he gets down on the ground, and we got his fizzy water, and You know, he’s asking, will you give me a ride? And we’re trying to figure out what to do.

And I’m like, no Steve, we can’t give you a ride. And I’m trying to be like, how do I not get in? Is this the guy that the police were looking for? Is it not? I have no idea. I just don’t know if we should get involved. And the three of us are kind of just, me, Tracy, and JP, we’re just looking at each other.

Partially trying to strategize and also being

[00:36:30] Cathy Scholtens: like, Is this really

[00:36:30] Whitney Peper: happening?

And finally, you know, we let him use our phone, call somebody, they don’t answer, and so we just, you know, we say, Steve, I’m sorry, we can’t help you. You gotta go. You can keep the shoes. And we send him on his way. You know, he, and he’s got this busted ankle. And inside, you know, we’re sitting there looking at him.

He was not a scary man. He was not a scary man. He was a man who was down [00:37:00] on his luck. You know, and this is what we Is that Steve in the audience? And, uh, this is a guy who’s down on his luck. And what I I’m just a nice guy, but what I know from being in partnership with JP is how poverty and incarceration and all these things can make some people’s life disproportionately miserable.

And I’m sitting here looking at this guy, and I’m like, I don’t know if his story’s real. I don’t know. But, I certainly don’t want to participate in further. Traumatizing this person. And so we sent him on his way, and, you know, we went about our day. And, uh, every once in a while we’d look at each other, like, Did that really happen?

And, you know, we were like, maybe we should lock our doors, you know. Or fix the windows or something. Um, and now it’s a bit of a joke. You know, Tracy has a good friend, Wish, who lives on the north side, that some of you maybe know. And, um, Wish will always say, Is [00:38:00] Steve back? You seen much of Steve? And we’re like, no, we haven’t seen Steve.

But truly, I mean, Where I end up, Nobody thinks this stuff’s gonna happen, but… I think housing in Missoula has raised, the cost of housing for renting has raised like 40% in 6 years or something. I mean, it’s astronomical. So, any one of us could be in Steve’s shoes. And the real question though is like, we all got these great signs that say like, We love queers!

And science is real! What do you do though when someone shows up under your mother’s bed? Not that queers and science have anything to do with that, but you get what I’m saying. Virtue signaling, what do you do? The question I leave you with. What would you do?[00:39:00]

[00:39:00] Devin Carpenter: Barron Whitney Pepper is an award winning architect based in Missoula, who helps homeowners create new spaces and transform old ones in a way that welcomes nature, community, and health into our lives. He is also co facilitating an emerging coalition of community members to support the city and re imagining how we can together address housing affordability.

And he would love to talk to you about it. Our final

[00:39:25] Marc Moss: storyteller of the evening is Kathy Schultens. Kathy hikes to Hope Lake in Montana with her best friend, Becky, where they work out their complex feelings for one another. Kathy calls her story, friendship, hope, and wisdom. Thanks for

[00:39:40] Whitney Peper: listening.

[00:39:41] Cathy Scholtens: Missoula pride.


Well, it was. Late September, and my best friend Becky and I decided to go to Hope Lake in the Big Hole. We’d never been, and we wanted to go. The [00:40:00] map said it was seven miles. So we start up. The weather had been terrible. We start. We have a canine companion, Katie, the Wonder Dog, and she’s with us. She’s a three year old golden retriever and she’s up for anything.

So we start up and about the 30th switch back, we realize, Oh shit. Yeah, it’s seven miles, but it’s six miles straight up to the continental divide. Over the top and down another mile. Well, you know, we’re up for it. We’re best friends. I’d met Becky about seven years before that. And she was fantastic. She was funny.

She was smart and we became best friends immediately. She was a tomboy. She wasn’t into shopping and makeup and pedicure. She was into. Fishing and camping and hiking. And so was I. So it was perfect. We had a lot of [00:41:00] fun. She was also the kindest person I’d ever met. As a matter of fact, when we would go to Missoula and I would not drive, we, every stoplight with a guy with a cardboard sign, she’d go, Kathy.

Hey, Kathy, give that guy ten bucks. Hey, Kathy, you got twenty bucks? Give that girl twenty bucks. Look, it’s all coming out of my wallet. So I started to drive. Saved myself a lot of money over time.

So we’re hiking. And we’re talking, like best friends do. You know, but we’re not talking about what we’re supposed to be talking about. Because, yeah, we were best friends. But, in the past, you know, month or so, our relationship had kind of shifted a little bit. Okay, a lot, alright? Because we had become lovers.

[00:42:00] They don’t call her Bad Becky for nothing.

And we didn’t know what to do with that. Okay, because there was a lot of red flags, a lot of problems. Now, Becky was gung ho. She was ready to call up U Haul, get the trailer, go, you know, live with me the rest of my life. Come be with me. But me, I’m like, oh man, there’s like way too much stuff going on here.

There’s, there’s red flags. And let me tell you what they were, okay? One. We were both. In relationships already. I know. It wasn’t fair to them. And we felt pretty crappy about that. And we had to come clean. Two. Becky was a straight girl. All of you lesbians out there. You know what trouble straight girls are.

Are they not? They listen to every Katy Perry song. They just want to kiss a girl. And they’ll kiss you. But then they’ll break [00:43:00] your heart. And I was well aware of that. But the biggest problem, biggest problem, was me. Because I am a relationship loser. Okay? Every relationship I’ve ever been in… I left. I couldn’t stay.

I’d think I was in love, and pretty soon, I was gone. I could not keep a relationship going. And I knew that. And I didn’t want to break her heart. I didn’t want to lose our friendship. And so we needed to talk about this stuff. But hell no, we’re not going to talk about it, because that would make too much sense.

We’re just going to get up to the… The top, go to this lake. So we’re making promises to God, and we finally get up there, and we’re on the top of the Continental Divide. And now, on the Continental Divide, you guys, you can see forever, okay? It is awesome. I recommend it. [00:44:00] Except that what we saw that late September day.

Was snowstorms, thunderstorms, snowstorms, and to the west, the sun was going down. And we knew we’re not making the lake. We can’t make it. Why? Because we are responsible hikers. We know better. We know that we can’t be on that mountain in the dark. In late September, it was snow all around us, so we, like, responsible people say, okay, we’re gonna not make the lake, we’ll go down.

But let’s look at this for a minute. And it’s beautiful. It’s fantastic. And we see this Hawk coming up the North Ridge and she’s floating on those drafts and just float and float. And pretty soon she’s right here. She’s right above us. If I had stood on my tiptoes, I could have touched her. Now, I’m not no hoogity [00:45:00] boogity new age woo woo mystical girl.

I’m not look at me. Oh my God.

I ain’t no braids, nothing, but something magical happened with that Hawk. She’s right there. It’s a national geographic moment. And she is. And I’m like this.

And she’s talking to me, and I’m hearing crazy stuff. And I look at Becky to hear, to ask her if she’s hearing the same crazy bullshit I’m hearing. And just then, that hop goes phew! And goes over the side of that mountain towards Hope Lake. The message go to the Lake . I don’t know. I don’t know. We’re we’re like, duh.

So we like, what do you got in your pack? What do you got? Well, I had a water pump pretty good. I had some matches. I had a space blanket that’s useless. I’ll let you know that. [00:46:00] Um, it melts when embers hit it. Um, and I had a pound of trail mix that I was. already sick of. Now, Becky, Becky, being amazing, had an 8mm Glock on her hip, okay?

So butch. And, uh, she had a fishing pole and some worms and, uh, that’s about it, right? So, what we didn’t have was a tent, sleeping bags, warm coats, hats, gloves, food. You know, everything you need. So we decide to go anyways, because the hawk said to go. So, duh, we go. We go over the side, down to Hope Lake. And by the time we get there, it’s dark.

But Becky starts fishing right away. Why? Because Katie the Wonder Dog doesn’t eat trail mix. So she’s gotta catch some fish. And I’m over there, trying to start a fire. Because I know! Goddamn, we’re gonna die if I don’t get a fire [00:47:00] going! When I was a kid, I was a pyromaniac. I could start anything on fire, and did, and um, but I couldn’t get anything going because it’d been raining for days, I couldn’t find anything dry, nothing was working, I’m starting to freak.

And I look over at Becky, and every time she catches a fish, and that bobber goes down, Katie, the wonder dog, goes, AH FUN! YAY! And jumps in the water and goes for the bobber. And the fish would be gone. So, both of us are striking out. And I’m starting to freak. I’m like, Oh, we’re gonna die. We’re gonna die.

Gonna die. Stupid hawk. So, Pretty soon here comes Becky and she’s managed to wrangle a few fish out of Katie’s grasps and she has a couple fish and she says, what’s going on? And I go, Oh man, I can’t start this. I don’t have anything dry. And she goes, I got something for you. And she reaches in her jacket and pulls out a bunch of love letters that she’d hidden there that I had written to her over the [00:48:00] past month.

Now these love letters. Of course, we read them out loud because we’re gay girls and, uh, we had to share the moment and, uh, they’re full of, like, how I think she’s fantastic and she’s adorable and I am madly in love with her and what a loser I am and how I’m going to screw the whole thing up and, you know, I’m going to mess it up and I, I can’t do relationships and what are we going to do?

Well, she’s reading them and she’s just wadding them up, shaking her head, putting them in. We finally get a fire going, we get a good fire going, and she’s got the fish on a rock for Katie, cooking. And we’re sitting there, she says, Look at that smoke, Shultz. Look at it. It’s just going up. That’s from your letters.

All that angst and, I can’t do it, I’m horrible. All of that, up in smoke. There it goes. It’s gone. And I said, Oh yeah? [00:49:00] Well, what about all the love in those letters, baby? And she said, Oh, the love. Love goes higher. Love goes up to the universe. And the universe is listening. And the universe has us. I’m like, whoa, okay, whoa, okay.

[00:49:17] Whitney Peper: Whatever,

[00:49:18] Cathy Scholtens: Becky. And,

[00:49:19] Whitney Peper: uh,

[00:49:21] Cathy Scholtens: So we spend the night freezing our ass off, trying to be with the fire, you know, following the fire, following the fire, and talking. We start talking. And we really are mixing it up, trying to figure things out. But every once in a while, Katie the Wonder Dog keeps things really interesting by looking off into the dark woods and growling a growl that I’ve never heard any dog growl, let alone a golden retriever, okay?

And I would shit my pants. I’d be like, aaaah!

Really maintaining the butch aspect. And Becky though, Becky would whip that Glock off [00:50:00] into this commando like mode, like, and she’s ready to shoot the shit up at anything that’s gonna bother us. And I’m like, oh, I’m in love. I’m in love with this girl. So we spend the night talking, freezing, talking, freezing and come the early light of dawn when we can finally see something we see Here comes the snow, and it’s coming fast and heavy and hard.

And we’re like, we gotta get the hell out of here. So we pack up our stuff, and we start heading up to the divide. And I stop, and I take one last look at that little campsite. And I think, what the hell did we just do here? What we did was we did something really stupid, and really dangerous. But what we did was we trusted each other, and we worked together, and we made it happen.

We survived the night with nothing, and was that much [00:51:00] different than what Becky was asking me to do with her? To lean out of my comfort zone, to believe in us, to trust her, to trust myself, and to have a life together. And I figured… If I listen to a goddamn bird I’d never met before, I could surely listen to my best friend.

So up at the top of the divide, I told her I took her hand, so romantic. And I said, yes, yes. And we were on cloud nine. We ran down that mountain. Snow, no snow. We just ran down. We didn’t even stop at the camper. Cause we had to find a payphone. We had to call the people who needed to know. So we jump in the truck and we drive to Wisdom, Montana.

And we get on the payphone at Leddy’s and we call home. What used to be home and we both say we’re not coming [00:52:00] back, we’re not coming back because home, home then was in my Becky’s arms and that’s where I wanted to be. You guys, this September. It’ll be 26 years ago.

I’m still, still madly in love with her and she’s still my best friend. Thank you.

Thank you so much, Kathy Schulten.[00:53:00]

[00:53:02] Devin Carpenter: Living her best life amidst the beauty of the Bitterroot Valley, Kathy Scholtens is an out of shape adventure enthusiast. She loves the mountains, waterways, back roads, and most people of Montana. When she first came to Montana in 1976, she saw the Milky Way in all its glory for the first time. The wonder and magnificence of the night sky continues to knock her socks off.

Kathy’s heart also lies with a ragbag group of friends and family, her family of choice. She remains forever grateful for the craziness, the love, and the laughter they bring into her life. Pretty

[00:53:40] Marc Moss: great stories, right? I’ll bet you have a story to share, and I’ll bet that you have a story to share on the theme, Lost in Translation.

The Tell Us Something live event is scheduled for September 28th. The theme is Lost in Translation. Pitch your story for consideration by calling 406 203 4683. [00:54:00] You have three minutes to leave your pitch. The pitch deadline is August 20th. I look forward to hearing from you soon. I’ll call you as soon as I get your pitch.

Thanks to our media sponsors, Missoula Broadcasting Company, including the family of ESPN radio, the trail 103. 3, Jack FM, and Missoula’s source for modern hits, U104. 5, Float Missoula. Learn more at FloatMSLA. com and MissoulaEvents. net. Next week on the podcast,

[00:54:26] Stephan Tucker: the world starts to come into clear focus. And I can hear the dog still barking, and there’s a sound of desperation in its barks, like something is wrong.

[00:54:35] Sandy Shepherd: To do my eye exam, I now have three board members watching me. One old man on the right, one old man on the left, and the patient.

I’m a little nervous.

[00:54:49] Jolyne O’Brien: And I turn and look at my daughter and I say, Sis, we have a problem. She’s not really exactly sure what this problem is, but she is sure on board to help mom whatever it is.

Eyes big and sure, mom! [00:55:00]

[00:55:01] Candice Haster: So I tell my midwife, I want to do it my way. I just want to be simple. I want to try it in the most simple way possible. I can use interventions later if I want to. But I want to start simply, okay, you should do that, but it’s not going to work

[00:55:15] Marc Moss: for storytellers from the Creative Pulse graduate program at the University of Montana, share their true personal story on the theme out of my shell, thanks to Cash for Junkers who provided the music for the podcast, find them at cash for junkers band.

com to learn more about tell us something, please visit, tell us something. org.

Four storytellers share their true personal story on the theme “It’s the Little Things”. Their stories were recorded live in-person in front of a sold-out crowd on December 15, 2022 at The Wilma in Missoula, MT.

Transcript : It's the Little Things - Part 1

Marc Moss: Welcome to the Tele Something podcast. I’m Marc Moss . We are currently looking for storytellers for the next tell us something storytelling event. The theme is the first time. If you’d like to pitch your story for consideration, please call 4 0 6 2 0 3 4 6 8 3. You have three minutes to leave your pitch. The pitch deadline is February 20th.

I look forward to hearing from you

this week on the podcast.

Ean M. Kessler: Do you love your mailman?

Do you love the guy who changes the oil in your car, the fella you hired to fix the dishwasher when it breaks?

Hannah Harvey: The first frog I ever met was at Park Lake. On a camping trip with my parents when I was 10 years old, my dad had scooped it out of the water and placed it in my little cupped hands, and then, and there I fell in love.

Lori Chase: It’s been the next few days getting my application together and I get the application in and then I keep calling. Is it accepted? Is it accepted? You know,

Marc Moss: when you were in grade school or middle school and high school and you lean back in your chair? Braced against the desk. That’s sometimes how tall something feels like.

We’re just about to fall over. Four storytellers share their true personal story on the theme. It’s the little things. Their stories were recorded. Live in person in front of a sold out crowd on December 15th, 2022 at the Wilma in Missoula. Our first story comes to us from Ian Kessler. Ian Wrestles with himself and his relationship to his father, whom he barely knows.

Ian calls his story shaken ground. Thanks for listening.

Ean M. Kessler: One of my earliest memories is when the dishwasher broke and the guy my mom hired to come fix it. This big burly guy comes to the door. Uh, he’s got a t-shirt, work jeans. He smells like cigarettes and coffee. He lays out his wrenches and he gets started.

I’m like three or four and I’m standing in the kitchen doorway and I’m just transfixed. I mean, I cannot peel myself away. When I was a kid, I always liked watching men work. My parents, um, they were never. Uh, they both wanted a kid. They each need the other to do it. But I was raised by my mother on the East coast entirely.

Uh, that was always the deal. So the memories that I have of my father are really scanned, but really deeply imprinted. Um, when I was really little, he’d send me postcards from the Great Plains, the Black Hills. Uh, you know, this part of the world, he’s seen and hiked and camped the back country, uh, more than maybe I ever will.

I have them, those postcards in a, uh, old shoebox and they’re dull things. Pretty tame stuff like, um, hi Ian, how are you? Or, uh, happy birthday, or Tell your mother I said hello. and all of them are signed the same. Sincerely, your father . It wasn’t until years later that I realized that I’ve never not known how to spell that word sincerely.

It was like it got imprinted in the back of my mind when I was 10. I spoke to him on the phone for the first time and that was my choice. Uh, my mom made it really clear that I always. . It just had to be something that I wanted, and it’s gonna sound funny, but turning 10 really sorta spun me for a loop. Um, I didn’t, I didn’t feel like a little kid anymore.

You know, I felt like a kid, but it did feel like some part of my childhood had shifted. It wasn’t something I could hide behind, you know? Uh, I had to talk to this man. I had to handle this thing. So my mom calls him sets. Uh, I’m sitting in the dining room and the light’s coming in from the kitchen, and I got the phone pressed up to my ear, and my mom told me years later that it was really, really, really clear to her that I was really, really, really nervous.

But the truth is I don’t remember any of it. I couldn’t tell you what was said, what we talked about. What I do remember is hearing his voice on the other end of the line for the very first time. , I’ve always loved my father’s voice. It sounds carved, you know, cured. I’ve always coveted his voice. I’ve always wished it was mine.

When I was, uh, 14, I went out to spend time with him alone for the first time. Uh, that was his idea. He was remodeling a house out in shaman Nebraska. Uh, he said I could go up. Work for him. I’d learned a few skills. He’d pay me be a good deal all around. My mom was really anxious, of course. I mean, I’d never spent time with him alone before, but I jumped at the chance.

You know, I, I, I mean, I was 14 years old even then. I didn’t think something was gonna shift between us or change, but what you have to understand, Is that my father comes from a farm in rural Wisconsin, right? He comes from a time and a place where if you work like a man, you get treated like one. And this just felt like my shot, a chance to stand alongside him.

It was summertime and we worked outside and my father works without a shirt on and he is so brutally thin. I mean, this man does not eat. He’s so skinny. There’s something almost. It feels diseased to look at him. You know, I remember looking at him and I felt like I could see every line of bone, every vein, every ligament.

Like I could see the insides churning in his belly, you know, that kind of skinny. I’m standing there and I’m watching him work in the yard. You know, he’s tearing out drywall or puttering with the car, and I can see the line of his back where he’d broken it when he was 15 and fell out of a hay. Or his sternum that was chipped years and years ago were the veins that just poured down his forearms.

It was the first time I’d ever seen his body up close. Now the truth is I was not very good at the work that he gave me. I did not take to it. No, not at all. Uh, my father has a temper and he’s not a man with patience for children. So mostly I just learned to keep quiet. Two weeks came and two weeks went.

There was no big moment between us. When it was over, he drove me to the airport and he shook my hand and I went home. I didn’t know him any better. We hadn’t talked much. I just sort of seen him up close. now. It’s funny to me at least because uh, I’ve told that story to people. Lots of people, people that I know and love and people that I don’t know as well, and without a shadow of a doubt, they always say some version of the same thing.

Well, he’s your dad and he loves you, and I’m sure that you love him.

Do you love your mailman?

Do you love the guy who changes the oil in your car, the fella you hire to fix the dishwasher when it breaks you don’t love men that you don’t know? I wish there was more that I could say, uh, about it. I wish there was some sort of finality I could put to it, but the truth is, as I stand here on this stage today, I’m 34 and I’ve met that man face-to-face maybe 20 times, and there’s far too much there and just not enough all at.

And if I’m honest, I don’t really know what to make of all that. We still talk and we’re still not close. Man, that’s probably not gonna change. But the older I get, the deeper those similarities seem to run. Mm-hmm. ain’t that growing up for you? We’re both reserved men and, uh, we both worked really hard and we both got more pride than we know what to do with.

And looking back. To borrow a phrase, it really is it, it is those little things, those bits and pieces that you don’t realize, that you don’t know. You know, the sound of your father’s voice or the cursive of his handwriting, or the way that his body catches sunlight and shadow when he works in the yard.

And the thing that I’m starting to realize, that I didn’t know when I was little with the postcards or or 10 on the phone or 14 out in Chadron, Nebraska, is that slowly you turn into a man that you don’t know, and that is really scary. That feels like I’m walking on shaken ground because still the same question rattles in my head.

How do you love a man that you don’t know? And the answer is, is I’m not.

Marc Moss: Thanks, Ean. Ean Miles. Kessler is a playwright, theater artist and storyteller. Originally hailing from the East coast, a recent transplant to Montana. Ian relocated to Missoula to enroll in a Wild to Ride Academy, a Mustang ranch and equine program. Where he learned the process of Gling wild horses. He’s proud to be a Level six graduate of that program and thrilled to be sharing his story with you.

Currently Ian is working on a debut novel. Our next storyteller is Hannah Harvey. Hannah finds herself with more than she bargained for when she moves in with her then boyfriend and the rest of his family ends up moving in with them. A big storm washes an injured frog into the yard and everything begins to.

Hannah calls her story, ""Frog Rescue" . Thanks for listening.

Hannah Harvey: The first frog I ever met was at Park Lake on a camping trip with my parents. When I was 10 years old, my dad had scooped it out of the water and placed it in my little cupped hands, and then in there I fell in love. I loved its smooth, soft. I loved Its tiny hands with fingers that looked just like mine, and I loved that when you looked at its chest, its thin, white papery skin showed the tiny rapidly beating heart inside.

It was like a little hummingbird heart. I remember holding that frog and thinking about how nice it felt to take care of it. To hold it to care about it. I let the frog go and watched it swim away, and while I don’t condone handling frogs because it is not particularly safe for the frog or the human, I will say that that experience stuck with me for a very long time.

I remembered that frog again many years later. In 2019, when I was living in Virginia, the house that I lived in was right by a little salt water inlet, and there were lots of water, reeds and grass that frogs like to hide in. And when I was falling asleep at night, I would hear the chorus of frogs singing.

Some people who I met in Virginia said that they found this sound annoying, but I loved it. To me, it was like white noise, except it was frog noise, , and hearing all those little voices singing often made me feel less lonely as I was falling asleep. And loneliness was a feeling that I had a lot when I was living in Virginia.

I had lived in Montana my whole life until moving. And I, like many others, moved across the country with no rhyme or reason except for the fact that I was in love with a boy. I had met this boy in Missoula at college, and when he returned to live back in his home state of Virginia, I went with him. I was so excited because he had this little quaint house there.

I was going to move in. We had it all planned out. We were gonna have our lives together. We were gonna do all those fun things that couples do when they first move in together. We were gonna build our relationship. We were gonna get married and have kids. It was all planned out. It was perfect. And then his family decided to move in

his parents and his brother. , myself and my boyfriend were all packed into this tiny house, and I grew up with a very demure, quiet family. We do not talk about our problems because we were all raised Catholic, so no problems here, no problems here. But my boyfriend’s family, unfortunately, or maybe fortunately in some cases, was not this way.

They were loud and rowdy and rambunctious. They took up a lot of space. They had fights at the dinner table, and I just could do nothing but sit there and watch, and I wanted to be the one calm presence in their lives. I dedicated myself to being the best girlfriend possible, to make them proud that their son had a partner like me.

I was quiet. I didn’t argue. My boyfriend’s mom even called me Mr. Rogers because I was so goddamn agreeable.

But the thing about being agreeable all the time is that you lose yourself, and I started to feel parts of myself slipping away. I stopped doing the things that I loved. I didn’t sing as loudly. I didn’t paint as large. I didn’t talk as much, and I slept all the time. When I wasn’t at work, when I was at home, the only things I wanted to wear were comfortable clothes, and the only comfortable clothes at my disposal were my boyfriend’s old pajamas from seventh grade.

I would put them on the sad plaid, ratty, tattered pants, and a shirt from an event that he participated in long before I came into the picture, and I would look in the mirror and see myself dressed as somebody else. My depression got worse and worse, and with it, so did the weather, the spring in Virginia.

Pretty tough. It rains a lot. It’s always dreary. And one night in particular, it poured, it was windy, it was rainy. There was thunder lightning. It was like a big storm from a movie. And in the morning while my boyfriend and I were sleeping in bed, his mother busts into our bedroom because that’s what happens when you live with your boyfriend’s family.

Family. Um, and she says, There is the biggest frog I have ever seen in our yard, and I don’t know what to do about it. That was the fastest I have ever gotten out of bed in my entire life. I put on my boyfriend’s crocs because of course, and I ran outside and I saw this giant frog by our dumpster. It was also the biggest frog I had ever seen about as large as my hand.

And I could tell immediately that it had a hurt leg and that it was missing one of its eyes. Perhaps it got caught up in the storm or got in a fight with a wayward cat, but the moment I saw that frog, something in my brain woke up, and that frog became my mission. I couldn’t care for myself. Some nights I couldn’t brush my teeth because I was so sad, but god damn it, this frog was worth saving.

when I would go to work in the day and when my boyfriend had the days off, he would be home, and the frog didn’t move. It was still alive. I could tell by that same tiny beating heart in its. , but it, it seemed just incapable of moving. It would look around with its eyes. It would shift slightly, but it didn’t move.

So when it was, when I was away at work, I would make my boyfriend water the frogs because I know that frogs need water. It’s kind of like oxygen to them in a way. It’s where they get all their nutrients, they breathe through their skin, and their skin needs to stay moist. So every day I made my boyfriend water the frog.

I would text him and say, okay, did you water the frog? And he’d say, yes, blah, blah. But after a few days of this, I tried feeding the frog. I tried doing everything, and it wouldn’t move. It was still alive, it was still breathing, still looking around, but it wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t move, wouldn’t do anything.

And finally, when I got home from work one day and I saw it sitting there, sadly, I went inside. I got a plastic salad container. I poked holes in it. I put a little bit of water in the. I put the frog in there, closed the lid. I called a wildlife rehabilitator and said, I have a frog. I’m bringing it to you,

She said, well, we don’t usually take frogs, but fine. And then I set off on my journey. The wildlife Rehabilitators place was in Chesapeake, which was about 45 mi minutes away from, um, where I lived. And it was another rainy night. It was stormy, it was pouring, it was thundering, it was lightning. And I am not a good driver, , but I put that frog in its little box in my passenger seat.

I buckled it in as tight as I. And then I just drove and I was driving like a maniac. It was insane. I felt like I was in fast and furious. I’ve never driven that fast. People were honking. I was doing stupid things probably. I was like, I don’t honk at me right now. This is an ambulance. There’s a baby in here.

I drove. I drove. I finally made it to the wildlife rehabilitated TA’s place. I unclipped the seatbelt. I picked up the box, I brought it into her. I said, here, here’s this rug. He has a herd eye. He has a broken leg. I named him Uno because he only has one eye. And I gave it to her and she went, okay.

And then I got in my car and I left. I asked her to text me to tell me what became of the frog, whether good or bad, but I never heard back from her. It’s possible that Uno just passed away. It’s also possible that the Rehabilitator gave him to one of her other creatures as food, which I guess either way somebody benefited from that.

So, but I moved away from Virginia shortly after that. I came back home. I had friends again. I had family again. I felt whole again. I was sad to end that relationship, but I was withering away in it. I like to think that Uno is out there. I like to think that he’s had lots of frog babies with lots of frog ladies

and I like to think that he’s happy now and that he’s better now. because I am.

Marc Moss: Thanks Hannah. Hannah Harvey is an artist and person living in Missoula, Montana, originally from Helena. Hannah is a University of Montana graduate. If you’ve ever visited the Missoula Art Museum, you may recognize her as the face behind the front desk. When she’s not at work, she can be found painting, drinking hot cocoa at.

And looking for creepy crawlies. In our next story, Lori Chase wins the housing lottery when she is selected as someone who can place an offer on a house. Now she has to navigate all of the twists and turns involving financing a house in Missoula, Montana. Lori calls her story Adventures in home buying.

Thanks for listening.

Lori Chase: In December of 2015, I moved out of the home that I owned with my husband and into the gold dust departments, a low income housing unit on Missoula’s North. The first night that I spent in that apartment, I had a mattress on the floor and it echoed, it was so empty. It was the first time in over 20 years that I’d actually lived alone.

I fell asleep that night to the sound of the train rumbling, clank. Whining and the sound of people honking their horns in the Orange Street underpass, please don’t do this. People live there,

In the middle of the night, I woke up to the sound of a huge boom that rattled the entire building. That I later found out was the coupling of the trains, and I wondered how I would ever get used to that sound, but I did get used to it. I also got used to the thin black layer of cold dust that settled on everything, the North side spice.

Then later my kids came to stay. We borrowed more furniture. We settled. . When the kids were with me, the place was crowded. It was a very small apartment, but when they went to their dad’s, I was lonely. I really wanted to have a pet. But there were all these rules there. No incense, no candles, no smoking, no noise.

After 10:00 PM no pets, no nails in the wall. So I got lots of plants and I named them all . Always knowing that eventually I was gonna buy my own house as soon as the divorce was final, but when the divorce was final in August of 2016, I went to a lender. Who told me that I couldn’t buy a house because my debt to income ratio due to my student loan.

That didn’t work out. And also, I didn’t have the longevity of employment because before this time, I had been a part-time yoga teacher and a full-time stay-at-home mom. So that didn’t really count. So I went home disappointed, visualizing a bigger apartment where I could get a. and three years went by.

The kids kept getting bigger and the apartment kept getting smaller, . And then one day I went into work to the office where I sh that I share with my boss Molly. And Molly was sitting at her desk working and I sat down and I started looking through some mail and out fell this flyer and it was all about this affordable housing.

That was going up, brand new town homes, and it was everything that we wanted. It was two bedrooms, two baths, a garage close to downtown, our own laundry. I could get a pet. I was super excited. It was perfect for me and I was perfect for it. And the application deadline was in two days, and I had to get pre-qualified for a loan.

I had to get all these little things. and I looked at Molly and I said, there’s no way I can do this in two days. I have all this work to do. And she said, no, you have to do this. Forget about the work. I know a lender and she starts like writing down names and like all this stuff, getting to work. Okay, fine.

So I do it and spend the next few days getting my application together and I get the application in and then I keep calling. Is it accepted? Is it accepted? Finally it’s accepted. And then they say, but you know, actually, out of all the people who pre-qualified and got accepted, it’s a lottery. And so we’re basically gonna pick names out of a hat to see who gets to buy one of these seven lucky people get to buy one.

And so I waited, I had to wait like two weeks. It felt like a really long time. and then I got the call. I won the lottery. I was able to buy this place. Yes, but wait, this was only the beginning. I was able to, I had the opportunity to buy this place for a hundred thousand dollars less than what it was worth.

Amazing. And so I started jumping through all the hoops, like I had to take some classes and go to a lawyer and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I’m doing all the things. And then my lender calls me one day and she says, well, you know, I’m really sorry to tell you this, but we just found out, you know, we figured out the HOA fees and you just don’t have a big enough of a down payment.

And I had already tapped out all my resources. My mom, my dad, my friends, like everybody. And I said, well, how much is it? Maybe I can still come up with it. And she said, $10,000. And it was like $10,000 . Like, where am I gonna come up with $10,000? I don’t know. But I was, I was thinking about it. True story. I went to the mailbox and I got a check in the mail from my dad for 10,000.

And he knew what I was going through, but he didn’t know this particular thing. And he said, I just had a feeling that you might need some more money for, you know, closing costs and moving and that sort of thing. And I was like, whew. I’m back in the games. I called the lender and I said, I got the $10,000.

She’s like, A little skeptical like , where did you come up with $10,000? No, no, no. Seriously. My dad gave it to me and she said, okay, but still you cannot spend any money. Your debt can’t go up, your savings can’t go down. You can’t spend any money at all for the next few months. This was in January of 2019, and so I was like, fine, I’m just gonna work as much as possible and not spend any money.

So I’m doing it. I’m doing all the. And then she calls and she says, you know what, I’m sorry. I just, they just figured out the taxes and you actually just don’t make enough money. And it was like, I’m working as much as I can. I don’t know what I can do. And, and I was distraught. I had already done all the little things.

And so I went into the office to work that day and my boss, Molly was there and she, Hey, how you doing? And. You know when somebody asks you how you’re doing, I just broke down and I explained the whole thing to her and she said, well, would it make a difference if I gave you a raise? And I said, well, probably, I don’t know.

And she said, how much? So I called the lender, found out, and she said, I’m so sorry. I should have given you a raise years ago. I’ve been meaning to do it. I’m just gonna give you a raise for that amount and then you can buy. And so she did. And so I was back in the running for the place and I was holding my breath, just waiting for the day that I could sign the papers and just waiting for something else to go wrong.

And then finally the day came and I signed the papers, and I moved into my place. soon after I got a cat, and that was great. And soon after, another one of the places where I worked the yoga fitness center closed. And I was sad mostly because that’s where I practiced. Uh, and then more time went by and I found out a couple years later, Katie, who owned the yoga fitness center, passed away.

She had. . And it wasn’t until after that that I found out that they knew what I was going through to get my place, and they waited to close their business until I signed the papers on my home.

So this morning I woke up. In my home, greeted by my cats, um, feeling, oh, so grateful for my home and all the little things that came together so that I could buy my place, but also, and most especially, so thankful for my friends and my family and the community that believed in. And helped me to buy my home, so thank you.

Thank you, Missoula.

Marc Moss: Thanks Lori. Lori Chase has two almost adult children, two cats and two jobs. She teaches yoga and works for Gather Board, aka missoula, the best community events calendar in Missoula and also a longtime sponsor of Tell Us Something In her free time. She likes to do all the outdoor things and dance.

Argentine Tango. I shared a story. Next, I am the executive director of Tell Us something, a 5 0 1 organization and the podcast that you’re currently listening to, I Call My Story Journey. Thanks for listening. I am gonna tell you a story tonight about my journey with Tell Us Something, and it’s more than that.

It’s also a story about gratitude and joy and depression and teamwork and beauty and community.

I was sitting in the dark at the top. listening to a woman on the stage tell the story of when she was a little girl going with her mom to Belt Montana and she wasn’t allowed to come into the house because her mom and her grandmother were going up to belt to, and she didn’t know this yet. Brush her great-grandmother’s hair.

And her great-grandmother lived in a, basically a, a, a shack. And one afternoon she had to go into the shack for whatever reason, and now she learns why her mom and grandmother are there, because her great-grandmother, Anna’s hair is so long that it pools on the floor. While they, they’re brushing her hair and it’s white and it’s August, which is important because the shack is occupied by a, a hive of honeybees and there are so many of them that the walls bleed honey in the heat and.

She’s describing all of this and I’m looking around the room and everyone is transfixed and she did such a beautiful job of honoring her ancestors and the care that four generations of women were taking care of one another. And I. So honored to be in that room with some of you who were there, I’m sure, and that she was, her voice was shaking and she was there to honor her family.

Later, I’m sitting in that same dark room at the top hat listening to a member of the Crow tribe. Describe leaving the reservation and what a r. That drew between him and his father, and he would go back to visit occasionally, but never leave, never come back, you know, for good until his father got sick and he moved back for two years and took care of his dad.

After his dad passed, one of his dad’s friends said, your dad wanted me to give you this war bonnet, which is one of the highest honors to bestow on his. And I was again, humbled and honored to be learning about this part of the culture, and I was just floored. I’m telling you all of this to show that I fell in love with the stories and the storytellers, and I’m sitting in this dark room and I’m listening to a woman share her story about.

Sexually assaulted the United States Marine Corps and surviving that. And now she’s an attorney in town and she provides justice for survivors. And a woman that I don’t know is standing out on the sidewalk, another, another, tell us something, and, and. The show was sold out and she asks, do you have any tickets?

I said, I, I don’t have any extra tickets. And she handed me two envelopes and said, give one of these to Victoria, the storyteller from the Marine Corps. And I said, I will. And the other one was addressed to me. It was seven o’clock, so I had to come in and start working. She ended up somehow getting a ticket, uh, and was there, but.

Um, after I introduced the first storyteller, I go backstage and I start crying reading this letter because the letter said that she had been so depressed for years that every time she went over the Clark, uh, over the bridge, she wanted to jerk the wheel into the Clark Fork. And she said when she heard Victoria’s story about surviving that in the Marine Corps, She went home and wrote in her journal and sobbed and had an emergency appointment with her psychologist the next day, and she says that, tell us something saved her life.

And she gave me permission to tell you that when I first started tell us something. I had a job at a bank and when I worked at the bank, every minute I was spending there, I was thinking about how I. Make tell something better. And I got my first smartphone because I didn’t want to use bank equipment to do tell something work when I was on my breaks.

So I’m like doing like updating the website on this little Android phone.

And I’ve struggled with depression my entire life. So much to the point that I have a lot of coping strategies and I know when. See when an episode is coming and I can prepare for it and maybe shorten the duration of it. In 2015, I missed all the cues and I felt like a guy hit by a freight train with depression.

I couldn’t get out of bed. I was just feeling so sad, and I’m standing at the kitchen. in the kitchen at the stove with Joyce behind me, just bracing myself on the stove sobbing. I couldn’t stop crying and she was just, she didn’t say, it’s okay. She didn’t tell me to stop. And that night in the dark in bed, she said, what would make you happy?

And I said, Doing, tell us something full-time because it is a full-time job. And she said, then you should do that. And I said, what if it fails? And she said, what if it succeeds? And it was that little way to think about it that gave me the courage to quit my job. and I quit my job and I’ve been doing, tell us something full-time ever since.

And sometimes we hear stories like, I don’t know if anybody was in this room when Mike Colucci had told the story about sucking the crown up from his tooth up into his sinus cavity. It was a comedy, I mean, oh my. Or, or the guy who told the story, uh, about being the person who has to quarantine the losers from the amazing race

or the woman who just ran outta gas at Costco and how the community came together to help her. And you’ve been with me on this journey the entire time. You thank. , you have told your stories. You have come to support the storytellers, and for that, I am so grateful and full of joy. Tell us something. The entire thing is an act of trust.

I trust that when I put out in the call for stories, storytellers are gonna show up. I trust that when I put tickets on sale, y’all are gonna buy tickets and you’re trusting. To provide you with entertainment sadness, like ugly crying, and then huge laughter.

You are trusting the storytellers to share of themselves. Most of you know I don’t introduce the storytellers ahead of time because I want you to come together as a community and support one another as a community. You know when you were in grade school or middle school and high school and you leaned back in your.

braced against the desk. That’s sometimes how tall something feels like We’re just about to fall over and you, and you come and you support each other, and I’m just so grateful to you for that. It may seem like a little thing, but it to me is a big thing. The biggest part of the tell us something journey recently is that we became a nonprofit

and that is a big thing. I built out a board, I wrote the bylaws, I got an attorney, and he filed the paperwork in August of, of 2021, and we just got our nonprofit status in July of this.

I’m Mark Moss, executive director of Tele something, a 5 0 1 nonprofit organization. I live on Missoula’s historic North Side with my wife Joyce Gibbs, and our perpetual kitten, Ziggy.

Thank you to our stewardship sponsor, Blackfoot Communications. Learn [email protected]. Thanks to our storyteller sponsor Viga Pizza. You can find them and place an [email protected]. And thanks to our accessibility sponsor, grizzly Grocery, learn more at grizzly grocery dot. Thank you to our media sponsors, Missoula, Missoula Broadcasting Company, and Gecko Designs.

Thanks as well to our in-kind sponsors, joys of Tile and Float Missoula. Remember that the next tell us something event is March 30th at the Denison Theater. You can learn more about how to pitch your story on the theme the first time and get your tickets at