It came in the form of a text, from my friend ministering in Sweden. He had been part of the story though perhaps more on the fringe. It was surreal…back then. It seems never to have happened. But, as best as I can remember, it did.
At least Shooter existed. This I know. But how he existed, lived, was part of the mystery. I lived with him for some months. I cannot remember how long. Less than a year. Long enough to have him embedded in my memory bank.
His name was Ted. Cardelli. I, we, my mates and I, hooked up with him when one summer in a bar while “sudsing down.” He knew our first baseman. (If I once knew how, I have forgotten.) The chain of events of his involvement with our misbegotten tribe matters little, for he became established as a person who we could “ride” to laughter on a wave and surf that persona to the limit. He liked beer. And Camel unfiltered cigarettes. Or was it Lucky Strikes? I think the latter, but definitely no filter. Real men don’t use filters. And Ted wanted to be the real deal, the American Cowboy, the essence of an American Man. One would think that it was a staged chupatz, a made personae. Aren’t we all? But that is one-sided.
I haven’t a clue if he was athletic. That he knew sports was certain. That he knew much about many things was clear. One might say his formal education took place in the United States Air Force. But It really, I believe, took “flight” in the back room of the shoe store in downtown St.Paul, Minnesota. Kelly’s Shoes, a store front facing west toward the old Civic Center, the home of the former Fighting Saints. It was between sizing middle and old ladys’ feet for their biannual or annual replacements that he read and read, anything and everything. He engulfed writing, fiction and Non. You had to credit his memory, or if not that, his imagination!
He did referee hockey. Not a good skater, he was authoritarian in his decisions. He leveled out at the high school level, mostly “b” rated teams. It did not matter to him. He liked the attention and authority. Wherever they could be found, but on his terms, meaning when he needed their “high.” He would go to his Walter Mitty “real” world in between fixes.
I did not hang with Ted. The town bar where we congregated after summer softball games was the occasional meeting place, as it was the casual congregational drinking hole. After some years, necessity poked through. My roommate for years headed North to seek his star (he found it and more!) Ted was somewhere in the never never land of a divorce and needed a place. I needed money. Seemed like a good fit. We continued to see each other as if we did not live in the same house. Our paths just seemed to cross at the watering hole. On the occasion we settled in and talked, he was a person who I found had “lived.” Though Ted was not a main component, he was always accepted. What he was going through with the demise of his marriage none of us truly knew. After “The Event,” concern placed us together, but only in small doses. And then we connected but a few times until he was gone.
He was an “expert” on everything, with knowledge contributable to any discussion. Whatever the platform he could add intriguing foundation. How much was from his daily dosage of non-stop reading in between finding the right shoe for “Mrs. Hitchcock,” who came only to Kelly’s to get her annual fitting, I could not tell you. He was a sponge for any type of information and I say this because he was never left out of a conversation. I don’t think he allowed it. He just had too much to “add.” He was more than street smart, though he had a sense of this too.
I never really knew if he was connected with long time friends. I did know that he had a healthy respect for his Father, stoked from witnessing his Dad’s work ethic and stern desire to do the right thing. I hesitate to go down this track too far. In fact, in fairness to Ted, he was an enlightened enigma to me who drank too much in a time where drinking was a staple of general activity adding mirth. There are others more capable to stitch together a much greater life story than I.
He was 74 years old at death. His obituary mentions “father, legend, husband, son, friend, loved and bravely fought.” It is spartan beyond any particular accomplishments. I like it as such. Where in life he was all about words and stories, his obituary is a tidy eulogy of love. The online legacy had six entries which, with imagination, you can place Ted in time and space otherwise unknown. What I liked about Ted was his learned aptitude. It mattered not to me how he came across to others. I learned to listen to him. He was also true to his word and, if it came to pass, a friend.
His son is a Doctor, surgeon if memory serves me correctly. Both Ted and his son loved to fish. And hunt. And that is where Ted found his last earthly sojourn. Life long resident of Minnesota, a great outdoor state made middling with the umbrage of regulations, Ted seemed to have followed his son out West near his end. Montana. I read he left behind a wife as well as his two daughters ( of whom he spoke admiringly of) and a son who brought much pride. There is a V.A. hospital there in Columbia Falls. I am guessing it was here that he passed. I hope that he was outside. But he was in the Big Sky Country, where one could be who you wanted to be. A.B. Guthrie could have made a great novel out of Ted!!
Where had he developed this passion for outdoor activity? My understanding was that his father would rather wear a shirt/tie and run his business, placing the right shoes on women. He had learned to find an end to a means. For Ted, it was the beginning to get to his “end.” Out in the open country, free from stilted bias and charging windmills, to becoming who one wanted to be. A proper place to hit the bottom of the slide.
Ted died in the small town of Columbia Falls, Montana, gateway to Glacier National Park. I believe his son, Dominic, went to school in the state. Ted must have followed sometime after getting out of the main brig. Perhaps it was his time behind bars that cemented for me that no matter what impression Theodore “Ted” Cardelli gave you, it was, at that particular time, who he was. He entered prison guilty of manslaughter, having killed in a drunken passion. He left the facility, married one of the guards, and then, for me, vanished. He demonstrated much courage when he entered, not knowing his destiny, both in prison and for future years. I believe he took it with him.
The obituary on-line said he fought cancer bravely. I would say he managed prison with the same spirit. Though designated as the gateway of the Glacier Mts, the year round residents are not in the one percent. A great leap away I am afraid. But Ted made it West, and now rests there. I imagine that he made some pretty good friends. He had the stories to entertain, a twinkle of eye that brought them to life, and the guts to make them real.
And Shooter? Well, a story about the name. Before he was going to have the door closed behind him for who knew how long, he came with three of us to visit the then Hartford Whalers. Ted had asked if he could go. We asked our friends to clear it with Gordie Howe and a few of the other players to make sure they understood and would not object to Ted being there. I think they were actually kind of excited to meet him!! I mean it was “rock star” acceptance. A real life “killer?!” Just before a pre game skate, on a Saturday morning, we were introduced to several of the players. We knew a handful already, that is all of us but Ted. When Butsy introduced Ted, Ted proceeds to point a finger and pretend to shoot the player, while smiling broadly. They were “blown away!!!” Ted was on top of his world, accepted by idols and spending time with them prior to imprisonment. One started calling him Shooter, and so he was, for that weekend. I can just imagine the stories regaled at mess behind bars!!
That he made it through prison on his wits and mind is no doubt. That he loved his children is beyond question. That I cannot but remember him without making a light smile is true. He was a legend, beyond his own mind. It is just hard to remember all of the components.
I can’t tell who the Author is of this piece. My nephew can across when he googled my Father Ted Cardelli’s name. I love your writing and this precious perspective of my Dad. Thank you!