The temps are in the high eighties today and I just lugged some water out to the new tomato plants I grow in old bathtubs. (Works well, but I discovered that in addition to compost the tomatoes need eggshells and Tums -- calcium -- or they get this funny nastiness at their blossom end.) The corkscrew willow bush is in bloom (white), one of its loveliest phases, and the “bridal bush” (I’m not sure what it’s real name is, but it’s an old-fashioned bush.) holds out bracts and garlands of white flowers. The Harison’s Gold, that sturdy pioneer yellow rose, is barely beginning to unfurl its blooms. The sweetgrass sod has put out rhizomes with tufts of grassblades in a wheel around itself but the moldy tulips that I took a chance on have come up, croaked and are now resorbing without flowers. The same tulips I planted in a flowerbed out front at the same time are doing fine -- in fact, two bloomed purple next to a purple phlox, an elegant echo.
When I look at the newspapers, I see rows of graduate portraits -- we love high school graduates in this part of the world. So many do so well, no matter whether on the rez or not, no matter whether in alternative schools or not, no matter whether home-schooled or not. The way one becomes an accepted part of the community is to have kids who graduate from the local high school.
I ache over those who are already dead. Ernest, whose throat was cut by his wife’s lover while she held him. Glenda, who was too outspoken and silenced forever by “friends.” Gene, who committed suicide over a lost love. Bill, also a suicide but we don’t know why. Karen, an orphan who inherited the mental disorder that orphaned her, and died of confusion. Mary Kay and Elaine, both dead of brain tumors -- where did all these brain tumors come from? So many killed in car accidents.
I celebrate over those who go on shining even though by now I’ve taught their grandchildren! Sometimes they’re so big I don’t recognize them (I knew them as pre-adolescents.) and tourists draw back, staring. Sometimes they are funny enough to be professionals, though their grandparents were only jokers. The women, after a chubby or scabby set of years, often transform into glossy, erect beauties. Some rebuke me for what I did long ago, like Curley Bear still upset that I tried to make him read “Macbeth” or Corky still shaking his head for being put on detention for reading in class, when all he did in detention was go on reading his book. Now that he’s had an aneurysm that put his eyes out of kilter, he goes right on reading except via books on tape.
Ivan Doig will soon be in Valier for the fiftieth anniversary reunion of his class. The local women are pushing hard to get the sewer people who tore up the street to repave it by the fifteenth. They are planning where they’re going to put their old classmates. Some have done a bit of interior decorating. The motel has been upgraded and Stone School Bed & Breakfast will accommodate those used to luxury. Ivan was in my class, but at Northwestern, not here.
Another, closer Northwestern classmate is Rolly Meinholtz, a retired professor of theatre at the University of Montana. We’ve been exchanging writing and photos of productions we both remember. I just recently realized that Paul Winter, the magical clarinetist, was an NU grad, but neither Rolly nor me remembers him. It was a huge university. Neither of us remembers Ivan either, though we both admire his books.
The Glacier Reporter devotes pages to the Browning senior photos. One of the changes since I first came is that almost everyone HAS a photo -- there used to be half-a-dozen, maybe more, who couldn’t afford portraits and didn’t have cameras for snapshots. Some of today’s photos are very sophisticated, almost like Hollywood resume poses. Rebecca Pilgeram, red-headed valedictorian, sits on a ledge of rock. I clearly remember her father when he was a little red-headed squirt.
I wrote an essay once to explore the idea of what a “half-breed” was like now. Once they were supposed to be the progeny of a French trapper and his tribal wife. Now they are very different from each other, depending on the kind of Indian and the kind of white person met and married. Often it’s the father who is tribal. We’ve got rodeo hands here (both sexes), and young men who looked as though they just stepped out of “The Matrix.” The athletes and blondes don’t dominate as they once did -- I consider that a positive: fewer concussions and less peroxide. I love that the witty girl whose last name is “Makes Cold Weather” is pictured against a background of snow and ice! There once was a time when no one dared joke about names -- well, some did and regretted it.
There are a few boys who are still boys -- the hormones won’t hit them for a year or so yet. They still have their comfy old t-shirts and buzz cuts. Most Indian boys never grow beards at all. I see no braids on either boys or girls. Despite all the dire warnings, it doesn’t seem to me that there are any more heavy kids than there ever were. The chances for more education are very high, partly because they will join the armed services (both boys and girls) and do well there and partly because of Blackfeet Community College making a handhold close and familiar enough to grasp.
We plant our kids, tend them the best we can, and pray like hell that they find fertile ground and bloom. It’s a cliche because it’s a basic truth and one that grips our hearts again and again, both in joy and in sorrow. Sometimes in astonishment at what turns out.