“HUSTLERS – POOL SHARKS!”
Bernard Frank La Montagne
March 23, 1952 — May 23, 2018
He was 66 years young. But he left quite the legacy. Barney had many talents. HE WAS THE BEST: chip monk catcher, big-sis teaser, tickler, annoyer, spit-ter, smelly-foot-room-stinker-upper-er, rock skipper-er, big-sis protector, nose picker (he smeared ‘em on the bottom of his shoes so he wouldn’t have to get up and get a Kleenex!), and FARTER! (I’ll never forget the sight of him squatting to light his own personal gas tank on fire—which burnt the arse–and made him FEEL like a stupid a_ _! Oh! And did I mention he was the best jokester, pool shark (9-ball-er), AND…an avid and well-known street evangelist for Jesus Christ? (I’ll tell you more about that later…). To put it in a nutshell, my brother was THE BEST! THE BEST! THE BEST! I have SO many delightful memories! And, oh, how I loved being his BIG SISTER. (Oh, and of course, I was THE BEST big sis!)
He always called me, “Sissie Neé,” (Nay) ‘cuz when he was little he couldn’t pronounce “Rah-nay (Rene’e).” It was always “Neé.” 66 years of “Sissie Neé.”
When I reach waaaay back in time and clear the cobwebs from my 69-year old brain now, I can see his tiny arm stretching back the string of his very authentic Indian bow. A light brown leather vest grommeted with silver rounded buttons shouldered the fearless little cowboy. Matching leather chaps hung half way down his hips, and his jeans almost barely covered that little by-cracky up his scrawny little 4-year-old backside. The pointy-tip red cowboy boots just about hugged-up his knees, and a real, honest-to-goodness cowboy hat sat back a bit too far on his nearly-white-crew-cut-cocked-head. He squinted into the sun watching the rubber-tipped arrow fly waaaay up high, landing on top the ROOF–again. And again. (Dad was the exasperated-frustrated-worn-out-arrow-get-ter-upper-down-er….and the BEST DAD EVER!) The cowlick at Barney’s “butch” hairline swirled around his squinched-up-oh-so-ferocious cowboy face….my earliest (delicious) memory of my little brother, Barney.
One day, when I was about 5 and Barney was 3, we asked Mom and Dad what it was like to smoke. SO…. Dad gave us each a cigarette. Dad lit the cigarettes, told us to put them to our lips and suck in fast and really hard. I think we died. We didn’t have a clue that we should have called Children Services or sued our dad for a divorce or something. I didn’t know till then you could cough up the inside of your belly button!!! That experience—and the fact that people who smoke have such terrible bad breath—turned me against smoking forevermore. (I wish it had done the same for my little bro….)
I remember the beautiful light wood grain siding that rounded the brand new dark green “woody” parked in our Antioch, California driveway carport. Oh, it smelled heavenly. A brand new car! A brand new car with brand new leather seats! A certain little 4-year old boy was quite the artiste with the magic circle cigarette lighter! (For those that do not know what I am talking about, cars in the dinosaur days came with an automatic cigarette lighter as part of the dash board gadgets. Everyone smoked in those days—’cept me! People are smarter now—or at the very least, dead!) The lighter was round, about 2 inches long, and when you pushed it “in” to the dashboard, the car’s alternator would heat it up and the circle part would turn bright red hot! Hot enough to BRAND leather! It didn’t take long for those spankin’ new seats to be decorated all up with dozens of perfectly round “polka-dots.” My little brother was SO talented!
I remember slamming the Woody car door one day—and Barney screamed bloody murder! Dad quick ripped that door back open and my little brother’s twisted and bloodied fingers brought big sobs and screams from the little brother AND the big sister AND the Dad! Dad screamed for Mom–and then Dad puked–BIG. (Dad wasn’t good at blood stuff.)
We moved to South Lake Tahoe when I was 6 and Barney was 4. Mom and Dad went into partnership with my aunt and uncle and built the La Baer Motel right on the CA/NV state line, across from Harveys Club. Our name was La Montagne—Uncle Frank’s name was Baer. They combined the two names to make “La Baer Motel.”
As mascots for the motel, my Dad hunted a trophy Kodiak bear in Kodiak, Alaska, and my Uncle Frank Baer found a trophy polar bear in Anchorage, Alaska. They had the bears mounted and placed in a huge display case in front of the motel. I will never-ever forget my little 6-year old brother standing in front of that case, looking up at those huge enormous, humongous bears. (It took 12 bullets for Dad to kill that bear. Once an avid bird hunter and fisherman, never again did my Dad kill another animal. He said that was a very sad day for him—to watch that bear come charging, get hit by a bullet, and then get up and charge again and again. Dad said it was very, very sad to see such a beautiful animal die—especially, just for display—however, the Eskimos DID eat the meat from that poor bear.)
Barney and I did everything together. Sister and little brother—pals. Inseparable. We even held hands when the town sheriff came to tell us about all the little chip monks and baby deer that were badly burned. He told us how some babies didn’t have mothers or fathers now because several little children were foolishly playing with matches in the forest and the forest burned down! Barney and I had been lighting fires with the neighborhood kids, piling pine needles in mounds, lighting them, then stamping the fires out with our feet and coats!!! (Those neighborhood kids were a TERRIBLE influence on me and my little brother—prob’ly gang members–and I can’t believe they taught us such a stupid thing!) Barney and I hugged each other and sobbed and sobbed as we thought about all those baby chip monks without mommies. We were chip monk mommy murder-ers! Never again did we light a match after destroying 1&1/2 acres of the creature-dense forest at South Lake Tahoe’s state line.
Barney was quite the mischievous little guy. He wondered what Grampa Frank Prevost would do if he poured out half Grampa’s snuff and replaced it with half sand. Barney waited. And watched. Grampa finally took a swig from his snuff can. I will never forget that little guy’s chaps flapping in the wind, as Grampa chased Barney round and round trying to “annoint” Barney’s little by-crackie backside! But….Grampa couldn’t catch him!
Mom and Dad took us to Alaska in 1959 via the Alkan Hwy in a truck camper. Six weeks together. A family of four. All crammed into that dinky thing, but, of course, us kids thought it was like Disneyland! We loved that trip! I remember 7-year old Barney working ever-so-hard to hoist those 2-3 foot salmon out of the river—but to no avail. The fish always won. I can still see his toe-head glistening from the sun aside that mighty river.
What a blast it was for us to jump off our house rooftop into South Lake Tahoe’s 10-foot snow drifts. We watched the melting snow drip from the eves, freezing at night and expanding more and more each day, forming 3-feet wide icicles. The smaller icicles had pointy spear tips and you could break them off the roof, hurl them through the air like swords, and crash them into trees.
We watched intricate snowflakes waltz down from the sky to melt on our dark-colored jackets. Each snowflake was uniquely different, and we were in awe at the beauty of these 6-pointed white melting mysteries.
It was typical for snow to get 6-10 feet deep. We made snow caves, snow angels, skied at Heavenly Valley together, had snowball fights, ate real “snow” cones, ate “ice” cream shakes, and skated on the frozen Tahoe Keys canals together. Mom made dinner and popped corn in the fireplace when we were “snowed in,” and two little kids sat mesmerized by the magic of the fire as it splattered wiggling dancing shadows on the living room walls. Barney and I snuggled into our sleeping bags near the fireplace hearth on those bitter cold winter nights, watching the huge white flakes fly sideways outside the patio window. The blizzards kept us out of school–for 5-7 days sometimes. Dad had a tractor and when he plowed out the driveway, 10-12 foot “walls” made the house from the street look like a frozen fortress of some kind. What a great adventure to grow up in Tahoe! Hard work for Mom and Dad—but such fun for a little brother and sister.
Summers were a blast! Softball games with all the neighborhood kids took place on the vacant lot next door every single day after school. All the neighborhood kids couldn’t wait to populate that wonderful soft earth to sport a game of ball. I was the only girl—but I could hit home runs more times than most those boys—and I was a great pitcher–so Barney always wanted me on his team.
We played “witch” in the blackness of the backyard at night. We ran after each other and teased and tagged our friends, throwing them into our pretend witch’s caldron until they were tagged again by renegade runners. A ga-zillian moths flitted round the patio light beams, weaving flickering shadows into the warm summer nights and up through the pine forest’s arms above. A trillion giggles floated around the backyard, weaving joy and fun and frolic and magical memories into the lives of Barney and Rene’e La Montagne and a couple dozen other neighborhood kids.
Hundreds of chip monks and squirrels scampered up and down the heavenly pine-scented wood piles Dad had stacked behind our home. Those little nut-munchers searched to find all the nuts and goodies we “planted.” Dad rigged up a make-shift upside-down wood pear crate “trap.” We “set the trap” by pulling on a thick string that hung over an arm of wood nailed to a tree. The string was stapled to the front-side of the long pear crate. As we pulled on the string, the crate would lift. (Clever Dad.) All the enticing goodies lay underneath the crate. We sat about 40 feet away, perched on the patio steps, little brother and big sister sitting close together, VERY impatient as we watched and waited. Then, at just the right moment, as dozens of little creatures populated under the trap to nibble the nuts, WHAM! We let go the long string and that crate slammed down on top of all those little chip monks and squirrels! We bounded down the patio stairs to lift the crate and DOZENS of little striped creatures scampered off—just to return again and again to grab more nuts. It wasn’t long till these little guys were eager to “play the game” with us. Eventually, those tiny little buggers just sat there looking up at us as they chomped on their nuts and seeds—not even scampering away! They knew they were safe with us. We shooed them off and again we “set the trap,” and WHAM! Over and over and over. The chip monks and squirrels were so tame. They became our pets! We held them and carried them around on our shoulders and in our pockets. They would come running to us when we went to the back yard. They ate nuts and seeds out of our hands. There were hundreds and hundreds of them! (Sadly, we hardly see chip monks and squirrels anymore.)
Dad built a 6-foot x 3-foot “holding cage” with tiny meshed wire. I will never forget Barney crawling into the cage with all those rambunctious chip monks! He was covered with tiny brown and black 2-3” stripes flitting this way and that, scampering all over his little 8-year-old body. For hours every day we would play with the squirrels and chip monks. Never did my parents worry about the possibility of us getting bit, or rabies or diseases or parasites or worms or scabies or hiccups or flesh-eating bacteria or! or! or! Hundreds of chip monks and squirrels hopped and skipped and jumped and flitted here and there over those 100-foot long wood piles, all coming to us as we called them. It was MAGIC!
We had one special little chip monk. We called him Chipper. He was our inside pet and we kept him in a hamster cage for several years. We took him out every day to play and sported him on our shoulders. One day he seemed sick. So… I gave him a whole Bayer aspirin. I checked on him an hour later. He was pretty stiff. We had a chip monk funeral that day….Dad put Chipper in a shoe box, we buried him between two pine trees, and all us neighborhood kids sang, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” a fitting funeral dirge. We ate cupcakes in between sobs and made crosses out of popsicle sticks to place on the decorated grave site.
Before the Tahoe keys were The Keys—we went fishing and frogging and caught snakes in the swampy waters of the canals. Barney picked up a water snake by the tail once and started swinging it around his head. About 4-5 frogs came flyin’ out the mouth of that snake! After that, Barney always watched for the snakes with “lumpy” tummies so he could swing them and watch the frogs fly out. One day we had our collection of live, long, slinking treasures all wiggling and slithering in a Folgers coffee can. We were running through the swamp towards home to show Mom and Dad all the snakes and frogs. We had “thongs” on. (Kids today call them “flip-flops.”) We ran fast through the swampy water—until I landed on a board with a nail coming straight up–through my foot. Barney thought it was hilarious and quite entertaining that I was “stuck” in all that bog with all the water skippers and yucky slimy slithering things swarming and swimming all around and over my foot that had an actual NAIL coming straight up through the top. I was screaming, “GO GET DAD!” and Barney was belly-laughing! (My brother, the ditzo! That’s when I wished he was a warthog or something.)
Our horse Babydoll was supposed to be our pet. But sometimes I would feel (somewhat) unselfish, benevolent, caring, generous, kind, loving and considerate and I would give Barney a turn on our beautiful Tennessee Walker.
One day Dad and I just pulled into the yard in the truck. (Dad took me driving up in the mountains every day during my 7th and 8th grades to practice driving. Such special times with my Dad!) Barney trotted up to the front of Dad’s truck riding bareback on our Babydoll. I wanted to make sure Barney knew we were sitting inside the truck (for why, I don’t know!), so I blasted the truck’s AIRHORNS (for why, I don’t know!). That was the ONLY time my father ever slapped me. WHAP! Right across the mouth! It was a really quick reaction, I’m sure, as my Dad never spanked me. But, to the sound of the monstrous shrieking/blaring air horns, Babydoll bolted and galloped off with Dad’s precious little son—GALLOPING BAREBACK!….. Well, folks….Barney let me be mostly the horse rider from then on.
Barney and Dad had an on-going jokester competition between them—who could “get” whom–was “The Best.” Chub-the Great or Barney-the-Great. An un-going battle. Barney rigged a plastic glass of water on top of Dad’s bedroom door, held there with a heavy string. Dad saw the glass just in time before he pushed the door and drenched himself—but as Dad turned around and walked into the other bedroom, Dad got a whole river of water from a huge coffee can filled to the brim posted on top of HIS bedroom door!
Barney was a sleep walker. One late night he walked into Mom and Dad’s bedroom, lifted the lid of Mom’s jewelry box, pulled down his jammies, and baptized her jewelry. (I wasn’t there to see it….but I have visions….)
Barney couldn’t carry a tune—but didn’t hesitate singing the words to “Billy, Billy Bay-oo,” bringing giggles from a big sister who could hardly stand to listen to the little brother’s attempts at singing.
Barney was a teaser. His favorite brother-thing to do to me (the BIG sister!!!) was to pin me down to the floor. We wrestled together until he finally planted his knees on my squirming elbows, holding my warring hands down with his hands, his body hovered over mine, and then he would suck up a big loogie from his throat and spit it out s l o w l y dangling it out of his mouth right over my face as close as he could get to MY mouth. I jiggled, wiggled, squirmed and screamed, “BARNEY, GET OFF ME!” (I could hardly breathe!) He loved it. And I love-hated it. The little snot. I was older—but he was stronger. (I NEVER DID taste that big loogie, thank goodness!)
Sometimes I paid him back, though. I was a wicked sister. Once at the family cabin on the American River near Kyburz, California, I pushed the card table too hard—and Barney fell backwards on a rock, splitting his head open nearly ear to ear. I was so worried I killed him as they rushed him to the doc all the way back to Tahoe. But then he came back un-killed with stitches–-with a whole $5 bucks in his pocket—I was so jealous! “Barney!” I whispered! “I’ll sit on the edge and YOU push ME on the rock!” But it didn’t work… no blood. Just bruises and un-impressed, un-sympathetic parents. And no $5-bucks in my pocket!
The family cabin was like heaven on earth. We spent every summer of our lives growing up there. We enjoyed one MAGICAL Christmas there—completely snowbound. Summers were filled with excitement and anticipation, running down the 57 steps of the mountain, to burst open the cabin door for the first time at summer’s birth.
We yanked the kitchen drawers open to find a dozen baby mice huddled with blind eyes and hairless bodies nestled in chewed-up playing cards. We learned to swim in the lazy lower swimming hole of the ferociously roaring American River.
We watched all-amazed as ga-zilions of ladybugs hugged each other—a solid mass of moving orangish red polka-dot wiggling, beautiful bugs, dating and mating round the trunk of the Ponderosa pine. Together, sister and brother lay snuggled together in the canvas hammock, watching the bats fly as darkness slowly enveloped the forest sanctuary. The cabin was rustic—yes, it had running water– but barely. There was a long “sleeping porch” around the outside of the cabin, a screened-in one room porch that housed 7 double beds all around. Barney and I snuggled down together at night under a dozen blankets, and we peeked out, noses ice cold, watching our breath as it steamed from our throats. Our grandfather built the cabin in 1921, the year our dad was born. Remains of the horse corral up near the spring reminded us of times passed when our ancestors frequented the mountain before us. We loved that place. We jumped rock-to-rock it the roaring river—Mom and Dad never worried we would fall in and be washed all the way to Sacramento. Somehow, we managed to avoid the dangers, building marvelous memories of childhood in this magical, mystical mountain haven.
Our family, including aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins played cards and games together at the huge picnic table about 15 feet from river’s edge, all day long and then till late evening round the large oil-clothed red and white checkered table cloth in the one-room cabin. We whooped and hollered and played jokes on each other. Giggles and laughter—a few guffaws and gleeful guttural groans punctuated the forest breeze at twilight. Oh, such delicious memories of FAMILY! Barney and I took turns winding up the old Victrola, listening to tunes of times passed on the 78 records that swooned music into the air of eras gone by. I can still hear bursts of laughter as our kinfolk teased each other, counting cribbage pins, or shuffling cards, chasing each other, giggles tickling our gizzards. We relished time spent with all our cousins, aunts and uncles. Barney and I grew up taking baths in the kitchen sink in the cabin— salivated as Mom rang the old cow bell for dinner and set out our favorite red beans and rice. We woke to Swedish pancakes and scrambled eggs. We roasted marshmallows in the dancing flames of the campfire outside, underneath the pine trees. The deafening river filled the air with such a loud roar that you had to nearly shout to talk to someone standing next to you. I caught my first fish there. Oh, what a glorious spot on earth. Precious times. Sacred memories. Having that cabin in our family was one of THE MOST WONDERFUL chapters of our family’s history. It was for me—and still is—my most favorite spot on earth where many of my most precious family memories were made.
I chased Barney in the house and tripped him once. The scar next to his eye was from his big sis—and Barney got ANOTHER five whole five bucks for that one, too! I stopped trying to maim him after that. He got richer and I just got in trouble. But…. one day, I DID GET RICHER! At our parent’s La Baer, I found $35 just off the curb. Several green bills were crushed into the snow. You would have thought a snow blower was spraying all that white stuff into the sky—but it was just a little toe-head kid with a big shiny scar on his head, flinging snow over the top looking for more dough. No deal. His sister would always be richer. (Pay back for the loogies in my face!!!)
We had a fabulous childhood. Our parents made sure life was fun and full of adventures. Our first business ventures were supported by a mother who filled and re-filled lemonade for two eager entrepreneurs. Barney and I learned to count pennies—and Mom taught us to “count back” the change from a dollar. (Kids don’t know how to do that these days.)
We always came to dinner together in the evening as a family. Dinner time was a CRACK UP! Barney and Dad cracked jokes and more jokes—and often I found myself taking a drink of milk and spewing it all over the table as Barney or Dad hit the punch lines just at the right moment. One time, Dad showed us his Throw-Up Laugh. Over and over Dad would guffaw and pretend to up-chuck at that same time he laughed. HILARIOUS! “DO IT AGAIN, DAD!” we begged, “DO IT AGAIN!” It didn’t take too many pretend-to-up-chuck laughs that Dad REALLY DID chuck up—ON THE KITCHEN TABLE! I loved meal times together as a family. We had so much fun bantering back and forth, telling jokes, talking about our day, teasing each other. Mom forced Barney to eat his brussel sprouts once, and he gagged and threw up in his plate. (Mom didn’t cook brussel sprouts ever again.)
Barney enlisted in the Army—he served in Korea just after high school. He didn’t get shot or anything—but he did get hemorrhoids. My wonderful Dad flew all the way over there to be with him when Barney had to have surgery. I really don’t understand what prompted the surgery—he’d always been a pain in the a _ _ ! GETTING hemorrhoids didn’t change anything. (I’m truly grateful to my brother for his service. He always had more guts than me.)
Our Dad was a FANTASTIC pool shark, and of course he taught his wife and children to play the game. Mom and Dad owned a couple of billiard rooms (AKA “pool halls”) in Antioch, CA and South Lake Tahoe. I was proud of my Dad. He brought in all the wayward teens and taught them to play pool—keeping the (sometimes, “troubled”) kids off the streets. My Dad was revered by these kids. Our dad was a/our HERO! And Barney and I loved working at “Chub’s Billiards” in South Lake Tahoe—our taste of running a family business. We all played pool well—a real-honest-to-goodness family of pool shark HUSTLERS! (Eventually, I became the Intercollegiate Billiard Champ of the University of Oregon. That was eons ago. This big sis saw many a guy break his cue stick over a knee or two…after losing a game of 8-ball to A GIRL! I had an advantage, though…mini-skirts were in fashion then!)
We grew up hanging out with famous pool players like Willie Mosconi, Minnesota Fats, and Joe Balsis. Willie taught Dad all his trick shots. Mom and Dad were HILARIOUS at partnering those tricks together, displaying his remarkable skills to all the giggling grandkids! Dad’s longest run in straight pool was 157; and in Snooker he ran 147 pinks! Dad taught Barney to play a wicked game of pool and by the time he was 15 he was beating most every other ADULT hustler that came to town. Joe Balsis taught me to shoot pool with one hand—no bridge. Dad taught Mom to tag along with him and hustle the cynics into a game of 8-ball or 9-ball, often times winning as “Chub’s ole’ lady.” We were a family of “hustlers.”
(The photo above: Left to Right–Willie Mosconi, me, and my Dad, Chub La Montagne at a Mosconi Exhibition at our Chub’s Billiards, South Lake Tahoe, CA.)
One time, Willie Moscone came to stay with us and before arriving, Barney and Dad short-sheeted his bed. Dad and Barney waited and waited after Willie went off to bed. But Willie never did come out of the bedroom, and in the morning, Willie asked my Mom if there was something wrong with the sheeting! He said they were “too short!” He didn’t even know it was A JOKE! We rolled on the floor laughing. Willie finally “got it!” The joke was on him—twice!
Like some fathers, my dad expected a lot from his son. Barney was a really good pool player. 9-ball! He loved to play 9-ball. He was AMAZING for his age, actually! So talented! One day Dad and Barney got into an argument. 15-year old Barney didn’t shoot a shot like Dad had instructed, so out of Mom and Dad’s pool hall Barney ran. Barney hitch-hiked all the way to Reno! It took a day for Mom and Dad (and the police!) to track Barney—hustling at a pool hall in Reno! But the cops graciously brought Barney home—and he had nearly a THOUSAND BUCKS in his pocket! A 15-year old kid with a thousand bucks from playing POOL! That proved to Dad that Barney knew the game—and Dad wasn’t so hard on him after that.
Barney eventually married his pool-playin’ buddy, Patty. Together they “cleaned up”….and developed quite a reputation In Grants Pass, Oregon, many years later. Patty is a FABULOUS pool player—much better than I ever was! Barney and Patty had a marvelous love affair. Married for twenty years….Barney just adored Patty—and visa-versa. And Patty was such a trooper the last three years of Barney’s life, caring for his every need. (I truly love and respect this wonderful woman!)
Barney was blessed with two wonderful children, Michael La Montagne and Rashell Parkington. Both Barney’s kids lived with us for a year or so after they graduated from high school —at different times—but, oh, how we enjoyed them! Precious peeps. Rashell and Michael are both happily married and have wonderful families of their own. Rashell is a HOT SHOT roller derby queen (!), and Michael followed in his Dad’s footsteps and has found his passion sharing the message of Jesus Christ. I’m so proud of them both! GREAT people! (These are very old photos.)
We did not have religious or spiritual training in our home growing up. I was curious about God, and my mom was very good to drop me off on Sundays to different churches. I explored many. Our parents were convinced there is a divine power “in charge,” but they did not profess a Christian belief, nor did they train us to appreciate that. We did say grace before dinner each night, though. (And here is a darling photo of our Mom kneeling with us in prayer—I remember this event—and I do remember Barney being so wiggly. I don’t remember Mom reinforcing spiritual things. I’m so glad she planted those seeds in my heart, however. (Notice how reverent the big sis is compared to the goof off little brother. But ain’t he CUTE?!)
Barney had the CRAZIEST sense of humor! He truly was a RIOT! Had everyone in stitches all the time. Before he died, he and his wife Patty bought a little dog from the dog shelter—named him Harvey. Barney sent me a photo “potty training” Harvey. (You have to really look closely at that little black and brown thing laying on the floor between Barney’s feet to see what Barney and Harvey were actually “doing” together…quite literally “potty training!”)
This little dog was such a great blessing to Barney. We were raised to love animals…and I don’t think there has ever been a time that we haven’t all had dogs and cats. Harvey was Barney’s little pal, and helped Barney keep his mind on silliness instead of illness. Little Harvey, and his cute antics, entertained both Barney and Patty—and now, a year after Barney’s death, little Harvey has kept Patty company through the grief and loneliness with Barney gone. Having another heartbeat in the house makes a world of difference in healing. This cute little doggy has been a God-send for two precious people.
Curiously, in our later years, both Barney and I each searched for a church and a “spiritual home” to worship Jesus Christ. After much investigating and church-hopping, I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1976. I became very devoted to my (LDS) faith. I was convinced from the get-go that the Church’s teachings were true. Never did I believe a pastor should be paid for preaching the word of God; nor did I believe babies needed to be baptized for they are born sinless; nor did I believe I was responsible for Adam’s original sin. I also believed families could be together forever and that we must have been with God as His spirit children before coming to earth! I don’t know how or where I came to believe these things, but when I took the missionary lessons, everything rang true to me—like I had heard it all before! The Mormons are family-oriented people—and THAT spoke to my heart!
Barney also became a true born-again Christian. His love and devotion to Christ was manifest by walking the streets as a dedicated street evangelist. Barney gave away over 3500 bibles and 36,000 tracts. He was a very successful mortgage broker by trade, and not a man or woman came through the door of his office that Barney did not introduce them to Jesus. Barney was very devout, very well versed in scripture, and determined to share the good news with everyone. Barney was acknowledged in the local newspaper as the town’s famous “Street Evangelist,” and he helped many people turn their hearts to Christ, improving their lives and family situations. He loved to talk with the homeless and share his testimony of his Savior sporting his favorite hat that proclaimed 3:16 on the brim. (That’s John 3:16—his favorite scripture.)
We were typical brother and sister. Though we loved each other to the max, there were a few things that pulled us apart. One such argument came as our father lay dying in Arizona. As I look back, no point of view, no hurt, no difference of opinion should have come between a brother and sister that loved each other so much. But it did….and 3-4 whole years were wasted as we chose not to talk to each other until one day my little brother called me to relate a story about a man that had come into his office, terminally ill, sadly telling Barney he hadn’t seen his kids for twenty years just because of a family spat—a stupid difference of opinion–and the man couldn’t even remember what the family spat was all about! The man poured his heart out to Barney. Barney read him scripture, prayed with him, and helped him put his life into perspective, and encouraged him to call his kids and make things right. That same day Barney called me….and we talked for hours, apologizing to each other, crying, forgiving, admitting we lost important, precious, irreplaceable time together. Never again would we think “making a point” was more important than making good memories together.
Barney was a heavy smoker. 40 years. Sucking on those cigarettes along with the second-hand smoke hustling pool in all those bars, taverns, and pool halls caused lung cancer. Though he quit smoking twenty years prior to, the damage was done. Barney fought a valiant fight. He and Patty decided to go the “au natural” route, and they ran off to Mexico to the unconventional treatment options. Barney did great for three years—until very suddenly he got very sick and became bed-ridden three months prior to his death.
Patty called and told me he hadn’t eaten for a week. Just sips of water here and there. My husband Jesse and I immediately trekked to Grants Pass, Oregon. I found my brother so weak, pale, a shell of a man, completely bed-ridden now, so frail. Sometimes he writhed in pain, groaning and groaning. But Patty was so good to quickly give Barney the medicine he needed to ease the pain. They loved each other so much. In that precious, sacred time, he told me over and over how blessed he was to have such a beautiful, caring wife. He bragged about her. We talked about her love for him, her patience, her diligence in caring for him during this rough time. Oh, how he loved Patty!
I sat at his bedside. We held hands.
I sent all my love vibrations down from my head and heart and through my hands to a dying brother, so ready, so grateful, so eager to meet his Jesus. When he was lucid, we joked about the water snakes, the slippery loogies dangling from his mouth over my face, the chip monks, the time playing pool together…. We reminisced and laughed and joked a bit. “I love you, Barney.” “I love you, too, Sissie Nee,” he said. Many times that week we told each other how much we cared and loved each other. We reminisced, talked about fun times past, about our Lord and Savior, and how much we loved our parents. We cried together.
My husband and I made a quick necessary trip back to Colorado with the intention of trekking back to Oregon in just two days.
Sadly, this big sister missed hearing her little brother’s last breath.
After nearly three years of battling cancer, Heavenly Father finally took Barney home. It was a happy/sad event. We were so grateful his fight was over, but so sad to have him leave us.
But I am smiling.
I can just see Barney whopping Jesus in a 9-ball game—and flinging a few heavenly snakes around his haloed head to watch the glorified and gilded frogs fly out. I can see him so happy—with Mom and Dad—talking and walking and joking about peeing in the jewelry box, getting rich from sister-inflicted bodily injuries, air horns and horses, icicles and snowflakes.
I learned a lot from loving him. I learned a lot from pushing him away. No argument or important, self-serving point made was worth our lost time. Four precious years without each other cost us dearly. We had our differences—but in the big picture, what does that matter? (I was more best-er than him, after all.) But we had a sweet closeness. A friendship that was precious. A bond that will last forever. And ever. Our late prophet, Thomas L. Monson said, “Never let the problem to be solved become more important than the person to be loved.” I love my little brother so much. Family is so precious. He was/is so precious.
If you want a relationship that looks and feels like the most amazing thing on earth, you need to treat it like the most amazing thing on earth.
I miss him. I love him. Barney La Montagne. The Best. Oh, Brother. WHEN I THINK OF HIM….I GRIN.
My dear Mom, Dad, and Barney, I am walking the last 1/3 of my life now. I will do my best to honor the La Montagne name as I play out the last chapters of my life here on earth. I look forward to the time we will be together again. Till then….practice up. When I get there, I’ll slam my quarter on the table and will profess, “It’s my “break!” (Pool talk!)
Just remember, I love you all so much.