Arriving in Missoula is a homecoming for me. I left Missoula in 1998, chucking in my ancestral and spiritual home for another ancestral-spiritual home of Scotland, thus, migrating in reverse the journey my ancestors had taken from the Old World across North America to the West.
Our rental house overlooks the banks of the Clark Fork River below Mount Sentinel just east of Missoula. The setting couldn’t be more fitting for our family, whose love of the mountains Dad instilled in us. He would have loved this spot; he would have jumped out of the car the second we pulled up and bee-lined for the water’s edge, fishing pole clutched firmly in hand.
To celebrate our arrival, I invited several of my closest and longtime friends for a BBQ at our rental house. My birth family and my family of friends finally meet.
I remember first moving to Montana in 1982. Dad and Grandpa drove me across the country to Missoula to college. After I got settled in the dorm, Grandpa said, “I want to show you something.” He drove Dad and I up the Bitterroot Valley to the Florence-Carlton Church. The last time Grandpa had been there was as a boy of 14 or so to attend his grandfather’s funeral in 1920. Sixty-two years later he had remembered where the place was.
“These are my grandparents and their two sons,” he said, pointing to the graves behind the tiny church (recently added to the National Register of Historic Places). I stared slack-jawed; I had no idea I had Montana roots until that day. My great-great uncle (d. 1880) was one of the first graves in that cemetery.
Unpacking Dad from his place in the console of the van, we carry his ashes to his ancestors’ burial sites. Dad has ridden with us all the way from his final home in Indiana to his resting place in the mountains. We scatter more of him among his great-grandparents’ graves. Dad first brought me to Montana, and now I am bringing him back for the last time.
The next day we scatter more of him in the Clark Fork River below the mountains. We also scatter a small jar of his friend and fishing buddy, Herbie, who died a year earlier. The river carries their ashes together downstream.
As we pack our things to return home on Monday morning, we see a bald eagle flying downriver—Dad’s favorite bird—and we know he has arrived Home again.