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The Milltown Union Bar: You Could Love Here - An Evening with Hugo

Eric Toennis

For the last several years, Robert Stubblefield has invited me to talk about The Write Question with students in one of the classes he teaches at the University of Montana. We talk about specific programs, which, if students have done their homework assignments, they've listened to. Then I answer questions about the process of reading, interviewing, and creating programs for radio and the Web. I also invite each of them to send me an essay they've written in response to a writer they read during the semester.

The following essay, written by Eric Toennis, views a poem by Richard Hugo from an undergraduate perspective.

I don’t know if Richard Hugo could have survived as a writer during the Prohibition of the early 20th century. Let’s be glad, despite the cruelty of alcoholism, he didn’t. I will never get to experience the Milltown Union Bar as Hugo did. I have not yet faced the heartbreak, suffering, or the inevitable fork in the road along the winding dirt pathway of life. A choice that will define my legacy. It, like all roads, will lead me to the end, but to which end I am still uncertain.

Hugo found a purpose in life. He found love. It wasn’t the kind of love one dreams of in youth with the certainty of a happily ever after. It wasn’t a love he wanted to marry. Love is a loaded word, not unlike good ol’ Dick Hugo sitting at the bar, observing the cast of derelicts around him, and silently conversing with the animal heads on the wall. The warm feeling he experienced was not only a product of the alcohol he feverishly ingested. Misery delights in the company of a fellow soldier, wounded and searching for a way out of that god-forsaken war zone.

“And so the Milltown Union Bar became a home…I drank there so much that the telephone number was kept on file, along with my home phone number, in the English Department.”  

I oft dream of myself slouched next to the behemoth of a man in Milltown, both enjoying the pleasures of a whiskey and ginger ale. We converse about the changing landscape of the world, and how our words alone will open the eyes of the world to truth. Our glasses clink in toasts for hours until there is nothing left we can rationalize to celebrate about. He drives me home. The car swerves into the opposite lane twice, and once hits a reckless squirrel. We laugh. I go to bed and dream of things that can never be. An evening with Hugo. What a wonderful thought.


Eric Toennis is an undergraduate in Creative Writing at the University of Montana. His hobbies include writing, sports, and procrastination.

Chérie Newman is an arts and humanities producer and on-air host for Montana Public Radio, and a freelance writer. Her weekly literary program, The Write Question, is broadcast on several public radio stations, and available online at PRX.org and MTPR.org.