“As good as we humans are at division, we’re better still at connection. Ties That Bind shows this again and again.” —Frank Bruni, The New York Times
“A testimony to the power of narrative and vision….The collection features an astonishing range of voices, and the stories recount exceptional events in the lives of ‘noncelebrated’ people. As a result of the participants’ refreshing lack of cynicism, the book is appealingly down-to-earth and, ultimately, moving. The collection successfully fulfills its mission: to make readers feel ‘more connected, awake, and alive.’” —Publishers Weekly
Dave Shea, 55, talks to his best friend, Alice Doyle, 59
Dave Shea: I told my father that I was coming home to help him after my mother died. I was going to stay only a few months, but then I met people in Butte and fell in love with the place. So I decided to stay.
One day he said to me, “Would you mind helping me with the graves today?” We went to the garage, he had shovels and rakes and clippers and a trunk full of bouquets in coffee cans. I said, “What are we doing?” He went, “We’re doing the graves. Just be quiet, and let’s go.”
So we got in the car, and we drove to the cemetery. En route, he told me how when he was a kid he lived with his mother, who was a miner’s widow, his two maiden aunts, and his two sisters. And they would get on the streetcar on top of Montana, take it to the end of the line, and then, all dressed in black and carrying their rosary beads, they’d walk to the cemetery and spend the day doing the graves, saying a rosary at each grave. And then at sundown they would get on the last car that went up the hill and go home.
And I just thought, Wow. I’ve known you all my life. I’ve never heard this story. We did my grandmother’s grave and my mother’s. And then we got back in the car and started driving around the cemetery, looking for these other graves. I asked, “Who are these people?” My dad said, “These are the people who helped me through my life. They don’t have any relatives, and they don’t have any survivors, and every year I do their graves.”
We stopped at a grave, and it said MR. and MRS. TORPI. My dad said, “We were poor, and we didn’t have anything. And when I needed to learn how to drive a car, Mr. Torpi taught me. And when I had to have a car to go on a date or something, Mr. Torpi would loan me his Buick.”
My dad never spoke about his past, and we never talked about where he came from, but that day I heard my dad’s whole life through the process of paying tribute to the people who helped him out.
Many months later I was looking out over the cemetery, where there’s maybe forty acres of plastic flowers, and a guy said, “My God, isn’t that tacky?” I just looked at him, and I might have agreed with him in another life, but all of a sudden I realized, Well, no, it’s not tacky. It’s beautiful.