Hairy’s first memories are those of his mother’s dying screams. As they echoed throughout the house a young Robert watched on helplessly as one anxiety stained face after another came and went from his parent’s bedroom. Suddenly amongst the tears Tommy appeared – tiny but alive. With Robert’s newest brother clinging desperately to life, Emma-Louise Belmont lost her own battle. Robert was only four at the time – he didn’t understand where his mother had gone. He thought she’d just left him; he felt cheated.
In the wake of his mother’s death, Robert’s father immersed himself in the running of the family farm – one of the largest in North Dakota, over 5,000 acres at the last count. Robert and his other brothers rarely saw their father. As the eldest boy, Robert would have been expected to take over one day – Robert though never shared the love for farming his father and brothers had. As the years passed Robert’s views on his future plans didn’t change much: farming wasn’t for him. Problem was he didn’t know exactly what was for him.
What he could tell you though with exactness was when he first saw Annie Milligan. Last day of August ’58, one of the stickiest evenings of another long, hot North Dakotan summer. That first sighting remains etched on his memory – the glow of her hair in the fading sunlight, the dimples on her pink cheeks. The smile, the shyness, the innocence. She was beautiful. She was also the daughter of his father’s chief farmhand. She certainly wasn’t the woman of Robert’s father’s dreams.
Robert and Annie married on his 17th birthday. The only witness at the tiny wooden church in Ferndale Falls was Annie’s sister. None of the Belmonts showed. Nobody who relied on the Belmonts for a living made time either. Annie’s parents were heartbroken; Robert’s father was seething. He’d already arranged for his rightful heir to be written out of his will. Robert was now on his own.
The three years that followed with Annie were the happiest of his life. The illness which took his love from him engulfed Robert in an almost suffocating darkness. He had to get away from everything. From everyone. Even seeing Annie’s likeness in her sister would send him spiraling into another bottomless pool of self pity. His family offered no comfort. The bridge between Robert and his father was out of commission, never likely to be repaired.
A part of him blamed his father for Annie. The Belmonts were a rich, well connected family. Surely they could have helped, got Annie the best treatment. Instead when she died in his arms they were alone. Helpless. Robert was a broken man.
Robert Jones Belmont II left town a couple of months after his Annie’s funeral. The open roads awaited; he didn’t plan on being back. There was nothing for him there anymore.
This is story 1 in an ongoing series of tales about the life of Hairy Bob and Mugwump.