Tuesday, October 27, 2009


BORN IN 1939. So today I’m 70.
Looking at the decades in reverse:

In 1999, at 60, I was just moving to Valier, a huge jump. It was freedom. It was going home. At last I could read and write all day and have two cats. I DID get Bob’s bio written and published. I was blind-sided by the devastation of publishing as we have known it. Oh, well. It’s the writing that counts.

In 1989, at 50
, I had just left the ministry and was teaching in Heart Butte. It didn’t last, I was fired unfairly. (The superintendent framed me and after two years I gave up fighting it.) The rest of the decade was back in Portland working for the City and struggling to help my dying mother (she lived to 89) and subtly deranged brother. That was miserable, but I DID haunt Powells and educate myself about Native American writing by getting on listservs.

In 1979, at 40,
I had just started seminary in Chicago and was about to take a rocket trip through a world I barely understood. High octane. No regrets. Still digesting it. Then the circuit-riding ministry around Montana.

In 1969, at 30
, my amazing adventure marriage to Bob Scriver was in big trouble and I knew it. I was about to return to Portland in retreat, intending to become a psychologist and instead ending up in Animal Control, a watershed experience. I did take some psych courses and became a Unitarian. Missed the reservation almost more than my ex. Tried once more to be respectable, meaning prosperous. Learned much, not all of it welcome. My old boss, Mike Burgwin, just came with his wife on a very welcome visit. He’s 80.

In 1959, at 20,
I was totally absorbed in the world of Northwestern University theatre, the world of Alvina Krause: brilliant, stubborn, resourceful, brave professor of acting. A foundation. I dumped Presbyterianism. Any tendency to be conventional withered.

In 1949, at 10,
I was in fourth grade where Mr. Garnett had just discovered I badly needed glasses. The world opened up -- a little dangerous, a LOT dangerous . . . let’s say TERRIFYING. The world was just recovering from WWII. To me, it felt very personal. (Mr. Garnett had been a sergeant. Mr. Thiringer had lost his leg.) I tried very hard to be a good girl, but I wanted to burst into flames. Or, as Tim says, join the Resistance and pedal through the stormy night on an old bike with a crucial message clenched in my teeth.

In 1939, at 0, I was a pretty baby who lay in the baby buggy and played with her hands in the sunslant through the dining room windows, or so my mother said. I was the second of the Strachan set of cousins, with a male cousin about the same age but very VERY different. I was the first of the Pinkerton set of cousins, who were all also Hatfields since the sisters married brothers. By the time I went to school, I’d been thrown off my little red chair, my throne, by two younger brothers. I was mad about it until I was maybe sixty and the youngest brother died. The Hatfield/Pinkertons no longer speak to me. I’m not prosperous. They are.

The oldest Strachan cousin came to visit me this summer and I was thrilled. Her birthday was just a few weeks ago. So was Jeannie’s, her daughter Sharon’s, her son’s daughter Lola Rose, another cousin Bonnie Jo (her sister Shirley’s birthday is the last day of September), my cousin Ross’s daughter Deanna, my grandma Strachan, my Chinese friend Pearl, and our mutual friend Joanie. I figured out the cause of this pile-up -- count back nine months: Valentine’s Day. The power of chocolate. Note the preponderance of females!

My mother claimed I was conceived in a huge thunderstorm on Orcas Island where she and my father were visiting his old girl friend. The girl friend had red hair and so did I. My mother pondered that little trick all her life. But now my hair is falling out, like my father’s sister and his great-aunt. We knew this would happen. She said she would buy me a good wig -- didn’t say what color. I think I’ll just wear hats, like ball caps. Like a chemo patient. This summer is the first my that my skin has begun to look old, but my blood sugar scores are good, there is no further diabetes damage to my eyes, and I’m more vigorous than I was five years ago.

At the moment a wet blizzard is pounding the house and plastering over the windows. The power has been going on and off. Just blinked again which turned off the radio. I’ll be extra careful to “save” as I go. Because of the Internet, I’m aware of a baby being born with difficulty in South America, an old woman who spent yesterday in Emergency in Calgary (hours and hours of waiting) with evident liver failure, another woman just over the Rockies who recently lost her mother, and an old lady on the reservation (she’s my age, really) who called on the phone worrying about swine flu because of the newspaper stories about the flu vaccine shortage. I’m on the automated national H1N1 info line and was able to tell her that unless she is pregnant, she is not in danger and could safely wait. She doesn’t believe much that other Indians tell her.

Sometimes I ponder the age I am and what might be ahead. When I was about ten, it was a comfort and I guess it still is. I don’t think so much about technological advances. I once read a lot of science fiction and have not been surprised by the recent developments. If you live in Valier, you know that every technology -- even older ones like a supply of electricity -- has its limits, and -- like symphonies on the radio -- its delights. To me the best invention is still the book.

This has been a self-indulgent post, but -- hey! -- it’s my birthday!


Rebecca Clayton said...

Happy Birthday!

Chas S. Clifton said...

Happy Birthday. And I think that storm is on its way here.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Mary!!! I have been reading your daily posts and archives for the past week or so after my Mother turned me on to your blogspot...Jon Scriver Platt

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Mary!!! Have been reading your daily posts and archives for the last week or so after Laurel turned me on to your site...Jon Scriver Platt

lancemfoster said...

Happy Birthday Mary! A wonderful post :-)

My mom is going to be 71 this week, on Halloween!

And here's to being unconventional, because no matter how much we have tried at time to seek the solace of conventionality and failed, the truth will out!

artemesia said...

Happy Birthday Cousin! Enjoyed your review of the decades. And celebrate the prosperity of your imagination and sense of adventure, the only kind of prosperity that matters! Write (and think!) on!

prairie mary said...

Thanks to all you kind souls who wished me a happy birthday. It WAS! Blizzard all morning. Eased enough to go to the mom & pop store for cat food. Figured out how to get my sound file onto a storage site. Am reading Vollman, "The Rainbow Stories." Gulp. My big treat was to put sour pie cherries and yogurt on my chicken breast. Not bad. I refrained from sticking a candle in it.

All is quiet outside now, slowly stiffening for the night.

Whisky Prajer said...

Seventy should be considered an achievement, particularly if said 70-year-old has never been one to shrink back from genuine engagement.

Just wondering: do scarves as headgear have any appeal?

lancemfoster said...

I tried to email you this morning, but your email bounced back, so...

Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus adent. (Bidden or not Bidden, God is present.) "Awe of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalms 111:10).

Wanted to again wish you a happy birthday, Mary. I know the weather up there is fiercer than here. We got another snow, the most so far this year here in Helena.

I liked the format of your post, slipping back decade by decade...

Today I did a post on my hengruh account about how the different places I've lived have been like different relationships (http://hengruh.livejournal.com)... I bet you have felt similarly. That Oregon was your parent you left and then returned to when wounded, but that Montana was the marriage for life.


prairie mary said...

When I was in high school, everyone wore scarves on their heads. If they are tied under the chin, they make me feel like a Russian grannie, which is not a bad thing -- but they do NOT stay up! The old-time Blackfeet men used to wear scarves that way. (No gender bias.) The Queen wears scarves all the time.

But when I was in grade school, Rosie the Riveter wore her scarf so it tied on top of her head, like rabbit ears on a turban. I've always like that. My mother wore a scarf that way when she REALLY MEANT BUSINESS, like painting the house or making bread.

Now guys with bald heads wear "do-rags." I esp. like Bruce Whatsis' (the photographer) solution: a scarf with knots in the four corners to make it sort of cup-like. But it's not for wind.

Prairie Mary