Sometimes it seems that life deliberately hides things from you until the opportunity has passed you by like a breath of wind that suddenly goes calm before you knew it was really there. Life in the west is no different.
A man known simply as Dick was someone who never felt the wind of fortune, even though he had already found it.
Dick showed up in Conrad Montana about 1965. He was elderly and very poor, with a past that was shrouded in mystery. He was a stranger in town and had driven up from the south in one of his very few possessions, a rusty and very used 1956 plymouth car.
One day, not too long after he had shown up in town, my grandfather, Sid ran across Dick on the street. Dick told him that he was looking for work and that he knew how to irrigate. Sid hired him on the spot and told him how to get out to his property where they farmed and had a small dairy. There was run-down old house on the farm that nobody lived in, and my grandfather let Dick stay there and take potatoes out of the garden to eat.
Dick worked on the farm for the next three summers, showing up in his old car every spring and disappearing in the fall when the crops were harvested and the cold Montana winter was setting in. Even though Dick was in his late sixties, he was a hard worker and was always very kind to my father, who was just a kid at the time.
One day, while Dick was working in the garden with my grandmother, he said that he felt sick. My grandmother became very concerned for him, as he was never one to complain about his health. They didn’t know it at the time, but Dick had had a heart attack and was in very bad shape. Sid took the worn out man to the hospital, but it was no good. Dick had lost his battle with life and died a few days later.
It was a sad event in the families life. They had gotten to know Dick well over the previous three years. He had shared with them a little of his past. He told them that his wife had left him and taken his children away. The only way his wife would allow him to see his 4 children was to line them up in front of the house and then Dick could see them as he drove past.
Dick missed all of his children terribly. One of his daughters was named Darlene, which was the same name as one of my dad’s sisters who lived on the farm in Conrad. He was very fond of her, giving her the fatherly love that he could not give to the daughter that he had of the same name.
Evidently, Dick had a brother and had known how to contact him. On his death bed, he gave the information to my grandfather, who then wrote a letter to the mysterious brother telling him of his brother’s death.
Dick’s brother responded. Then he dropped a bomb on the family! The man said that the brothers had separated when young men and both of them went their separate ways to seek their fortunes. They had both had nothing but the clothes on their backs when they left each other, coming as they had from a poverty stricken family.
After separating, Dick’s brother had started up an insurance company and worked very hard to make it successful. It had been no small success and he had made a tremendous amount of money, becoming a multimillionaire!
At that point, he had tried to find his brother Dick to share in the success that had come his way. He put ads in all the papers, up and down the east coast trying to locate his brother. He never got a response and he told my grandfather that he had assumed that Dick had died somewhere, never dreaming that his brother would go out to experience a life in the west.
Only when he received the letter from my grandfather had he discovered where his brother had actually been. He then said that he would come out to Montana and pick up his brothers body to bury him with honor where they had originated.
Little did anyone in that area know just how successful this man had been. When he made his trip to Montana, it was in his private plane. It was so big that they had to make special calculations to make sure that it could even land on the small runway in Conrad. To my knowledge, it was the largest plane to ever land in that small town up to that time.
Dick left his car, an old lantern (pictured above) and an army issue goose down sleeping bag to my dad. They were the only possessions that Dick had owned. The worn out old man died never knowing that his successful brother wanted to take care of him financially, never knowing that his share of his brothers success had been waiting for him for well over 20 years. He died a millionaire and never knew it. The breath of fortune was there, searching him out, but whether through insecurity in his own unsuccess or some other reason, he had never tried to contact his brother.
In one regard, life in the west is the same as life anywhere else. It’s just not fair. Sometimes it hides things from you that you will never find out until it is just too late.