Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.
A friend from college and I wandered into a fly shop in Dubois a couple of years ago on a trip up Union Pass. The proprietor wasn’t unfriendly, but he wasn’t friendly either. I asked for some black gnats, mosquitoes, and mayflies. He pulled out a tray that wasn’t a stellar example of the fly-tying art.
As I looked over the hastily tied arrangement, I said, “My brother-in-law told me to buy flies here.”
“Who is your brother-in-law?” the owner asked.
“Matt Conilogue,” I said.
“Matt’s your brother-in-law?” he asked incredulously, “Well, hold on a minute.”
He pulled the tray off the display case and pulled out flies that could easily be works of art.
“Sorry, that first tray was for the pilgrims,” he said.
He proceeded to talk about Matt as his favorite UPS driver and before we left, he threw in a couple of free flies and said, “You want caddisflies, not mayflies, that’s the hatch right now.”
It was just another example of the effect my friendly, outgoing, eternally helpful brother-in-law had on the people he met.
Eternal is a good word to use with Matt. He passed on to eternity at his home in Riverton on Friday night after a year-long battle with that relentless bastard cancer.
Matt was my brother for 44 years.
We met for the first time at my grandma Gasser’s house in Riverton. As a protective older brother who often had words with my little sister Susie’s dates in high school, and occasionally a bit more “hands-on” interaction, she had trepidations about my meeting Matt. She had nothing to worry about. We were immediately best friends for life on that first handshake.
A couple of years later, I steadied Matt at the altar of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Lusk on my wedding day. It was 100+ degrees in Niobrara County that June afternoon. Sweat was rolling off the tip of his nose after we had a festive evening the night before, hitting every bar in Lusk, (all three of them) before ending the evening early Saturday morning hunting jackrabbits.
Those were our kinds of adventures.
As young men with growing families, we often gathered at my parent’s house or his mom and dad’s place on Cascade in Lander. As the kids played, the women talked and prepared meals or cleaned up, Matt and I would invariably fall asleep in easy chairs. We watched our shared sons and nephews do the same routine in positions that were once ours.
My dad always enjoyed going out with us. He often remarked that between me and Matt, there was no one in Fremont County we didn’t know. That wasn’t much of an exaggeration.
The one area Matt and his father-in-law (my dad) had problems was when they were working on a project together, and we were always working on some type of project. Dad was impulsive, driven and wanted to get the job done as quickly as possible. Matt was meticulous, introspective, and analyzed situations completely before he started. I was stuck in the middle.
One day the three of us were building a six-foot-high cedar fence around Matt and Susie’s house in Kinnear. Matt came with a full set of survey instruments, a 100-meter tape, and assorted flags and stakes. Dad had a can of spray paint and made a mark on one of the rear tires of the tractor with the posthole augur. He said, “Spray the spot when that mark comes down.” There was a little disparity in their methods and within a couple of minutes, they weren’t talking to each other. I’ve never been good at reconciling differences between people, but my suggestion that we set the corners, stretch some baler twine, and mark the posts with Matt’s big tape got a couple of grunts of approval. By the time we were nailing the cedar planks to the rails, they were best friends again.
Matt and Susie were an outstanding aunt and uncle for Brian and Staci. Matt provided what Staci calls, “Bonus Grandparents” in his parents Eldon and Norma, Grandpa Owie and Grandma Norm to my kids, and to my niece Amron, and nephews Adam and Jacob.
Matt and I hunted turkeys in Keeline, deer near Hat Creek, deer and elk above Dubois, and many pronghorn in the Gas Hills. We fished often together as well, and on one memorable afternoon in an underpowered, 16-foot fiberglass hulled V-hull boat we learned that you could surf on Bull Lake when an afternoon storm built up six-foot waves in the face of 60 mph wind.
The 35-horsepower Mercury was only good for steering, and not powerful enough to move us. Matt had the wheel and kept turning us left, and revving the engine when I yelled to hit it as we timed the trough and crest of approaching waves. We made it to shore, only to get drenched when a small flash flood hit us on the little stretch of sand we’d anchored on.
Matt, and one of my other brothers (by choice, not birth) Tad McMillan often found ourselves donating labor, tools, and tremendous amounts of time at Trinity Lutheran School. We often had other guys helping us, but in those first 15 formative years of the school, it was always the three of us pouring concrete, building cabinets, erecting buildings, converting structures, or roofing new buildings.
Tad moved away, but Matt and I continued to battle for the little parochial school, often against strong, organized opposition seeking to shut the place down. With Matt’s power of persuasion, it never happened. He brought up the two open positions at the school last Wednesday in what proved to be our final conversation.
Sometime over the nearly half-century, we knew each other we changed from the type of guys who would throw fishing gear off a 35-foot high ledge, and then jump into a spruce tree and climb down to reach a trout stream a little quicker, to a pair of grandpas.
As I joked with him when his first grandchild, Tucker was born, “Yes you’re a grandpa, but I’m a great uncle.”
As best friends, and brothers, often do, we constantly insulted each other. As his son, and my nephew Adam said last week, “In this family, if we like you we insult you. If we don’t say anything or are polite, it means we can’t stand you.”
We shared a common greeting over the course of four-plus decades. “Hey Vern,” Matt would say, and I’d respond, “What’s going on Uvula.” Neither of us remembers where it came from, it just was.
As I close this tribute to a great father, brother, uncle, husband, and friend, here are a few words from a John Denver song that always reminded me of him.
“I had an uncle name of Matthew, was his father’s only boy, born just south of Colby, Kansas, he was his mother’s pride and joy. Yes, and joy was just the thing that he was raised on, love was just the way to live and die, gold was just a windy Kansas wheatfield, and blue’s just a Kansas summer sky.”
He was his father’s only son, and his mother’s pride and joy. No, he wasn’t born in Colby, and it wasn’t a windy Kansas wheatfield, but instead an alfalfa field near Pavillion. Or a summer sky on his UPS route at Lysite, or maybe in the peaks of the Wind River range or the plains of eastern Wyoming. Joy was what he was about, and love was his way to live and die.
My daughter Staci had a tremendous tribute to her uncle as did my nephew Adam to his dad. They are linked below: