Joe Popovich took his final ramble last week. The man who many knew as "Cockeyed Joe," a longtime frequenter of Missoula's sidewalks and alleys, traveled slowly from the Poverello Center, to the courthouse lawn, where he often spent his afternoons. Popovich usually ambled with a shopping cart. This time he made the journey in a small brown box.
Popovich died Oct. 7 at St. Patrick Hospital. He was 51. He was cremated.
Kathy, a former compatriot, wheeled Popovich's old blue shopping cart down the sidewalk with her forearms. Daisies and sunflowers spilled out the top. She held up a poster-size photo of Popovich, whose ashes rode in the cart's child seat.
The procession grew from four people to six to 10. Some saw the photo, recognized Popovich and stopped to offer their condolences. One asked how long Popovich had been homeless in Missoula.
"He moved here in 1996," Kathy said, her voice detached. "So a little less than 20 years."
The walk, she said, was "tough, man, tough."
There'd been some confusion earlier in the week as to the exact date of the memorial. Occupy Missoula protesters had announced during one of their recent general assemblies that it would take place Oct. 23. Others thought it was set for Oct. 19.
The turnout was small.
"We got down to the courthouse, a guy folded up an American flag and presented it to me," Kathy said after the service.
Minutes later, the man took the flag back without explanation.