Putting A Face On The Homeless: Memories Of and Commitments to A Cousin

By Jack Beslanwitch

            Close to forty nine years ago, in the year 1952, two children were born two month apart. One on May 27th, another on July 30th. We grew up together,were best friends together, cousins together. We swam together, fished together, double dated together and went to proms. At one point, Bud and I were in a row boat on Wade Lake, a lake close to West Yellowstone and Yellowstone Park, a place that Bud loved dearly. We spotted a moose on the shore and Bud decided he would make moose calls. That was when we discovered that moose could swim and we could row. Another time, when Bud's grandfather died, he was asked to play taps on a coronet for his grandfather. He loved his coronet and he loved his grandfather. He refused. But later, somewhat after the funeral, he sat some way off and played taps for his grandfather. Played them as only he could play them.
           There were things going on behind the scenes that neither of us talked about and we each had to deal with. And lives went on. What neither of us knew was that many years later one would teach the other what the face of homelessness truly could be.
           Somewhere earlier, we entered the Marines or the Navy, went to college, started lives, went on to what we hoped would be the rest of our lives.
            At a point in those two timelines something happened. We each had traumas that touched us. We each explored drugs and alcohol. We each tried to climb beyond the might have beens and what happeneds. And the birthdays came. The years passed. There came a time in my own life when my first marriage died, my business died and my father died in the space of six weeks and I climbed into a bottle of rum and coke and stayed there for a while. There were other traumas that touched Bud's life from much earlier and after and he climbed somewhere similar and stayed.
            I do not know how often he climbed back out, but there is sadness in my soul that I did not try to truly find out. More importantly, there is a sadness in my soul that I never knew that he made that one step backwards that left him on to the streets in Billings, Montana. I know not how often he sat the streets and pan handled for food and alcohol. I know he spent parts of nine years. I know, from a nurse, he frost bit his feet at least twice. Let's face it, Billings is definitely not he place to be homeless in the winter.
           Some of it was spent in a Rescue Mission in Billings, Montana. Parts of it on the street. Parts of it with a roof over his head. Bud cut many bridges with his family with alcohol and threats and actual acts of violence. I cut bridges with distance and neglect and might have beens. Ultimately I came back to my cousins and my family. Bud did not. Or, only for brief moments. Not, at least, until close to his own death. Many facts are still not clear and may never be clear, but it appears that he either sought or was involuntarily sent into detox and, however it was done, it was botched. He vomited. He aspirated. He contracted pneumonia. He became infected. Ultimately, he died. The important thing, is that he had a face. He had people who loved him. Miss him. Feel guilt that we could have not done more. Feel sad that he would not let us do more.
            Roxie and Karen, his sisters, had the memorial in the Chapel of the Rescue mission that he lived in off and on starting nine years ago. They gave a meal for those living in that Mission for that day. There we heard the words from the family. Then we heard from those who lived with Bud off and on for the last nine years. We heard from a cook who told us that Bud, when asked "How good a cook are you", he answered, "the best". And he was. Sad say. The best. Whether he blew a coronet or made meat loaf for the residents of the rescue mission or sat on the streets with a sign asking for help. Here we learned from a nurse that he had frost bitten his feet twice. She also related how he spotted her on the street and peeked up over his sign and pointed with a smile at his feet. That was Bud. Sometime soon we will take part of his ashes and spread them on the waters of Wade Lake from a boat. Another part may be buried with a full Marine send off, including a head stone, burial and taps. We will miss this man we knew. More, we will miss the boy we knew who did not suffer from the demons that made him drink and continue to drink. We will miss him more, because we could not say good bye in person. There were many who knew him over the course of his life. Cared about. Loved him. Will miss him.
            It is hoped that we can do better by other who sit behind the pieces of card board or at the Mission doors than we did for Bud. Whether feeding those that are hungry or helping those with an addicition, it is hoped that somehow we can be there for those that may not ask us to help. Let us hope, as some here in Seattle have done, have stood up for their rights. Unlike a rural metropolis like Seattle, Billings does not suffer from the loss of low income housing like Seattle does. Gentrification may sound like a good thing as it makes a city more wealthy, a better tax base. But it drives out those who are less than a pay check away from the streets as rental costs climb out of reason. So, when someone voices the anguish of being hungry or not having a bed to sleep in, I have a face that I can attach to my compassion for those who are in need of whatever kind. If the loss of my cousin in this seemingly senseless way at an early age has any meaning, for me this is it. That I can touch my own compassion and in so doing so, reach out to others.

            As time goes along, I will add links to locations to deal with my need to express my anguish at the loss of Bud to his addiction and his homelessness. It is in his memory that I will take these actions and hope that by expressing my compassion to others, I will express the compassion I was unable to express to Bud.