Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Among my father’s many books was a set of fewer than a dozen precious-seeming editions of famous works, including Shakespeare and Boccaccio. Those were the only two I tried to read at about age ten. So far as I know, no one else ever tried to read them. When my father died, my mother gave those books to my brother as the oldest male in the family, acting on her belief that they were valuable family heirlooms. I don’t know what he did with them. They were really not easily readable (flimsy paper, small print) and a close reading of Boccaccio is titillating, but not useful for much more short of an academic specialty. My father’s master’s degree was in agriculture. His thesis was about the prices of potatoes. But everyone in the family thought of him as an educated man. He had a LOT of books and everyone was impressed by that. No one asked what kind of books.

It was a jumble. Biographies. Fiction that was popular when my father was a boy. A bit of history. One of my fav sets (he liked sets) was “one-minute” stories that each took one minute to read: history, mythology, science. He liked science a lot and I even struggled through a very simple book explaining atomic energy when I was maybe ten. He had almost the whole set of the Modern Library but no one read them. He had the kind of poetry that Palgrave liked, the kind that’s good to memorize in a one-room schoolhouse. We kids had our own books. My mother read library books. In later years my father bought self-improvement books by the box, but never read them so far as I could tell.

I have a lot of books. They are more or less in groups: natural history and nature writing, Montana fiction and essays, Western art and bronzes, Native American literature, how-to-write and writer’s reference books, religion and theology (not the same thing), myth and fairy tales, anthropology, several kinds of psychology (object relations, archetypal, brain theory), interior decoration and gardening, the Transcendentalists and the James Boys (Henry and William plus their sister). These are working books. I have to buy them because I write in the margins and highlight things. The Valier library doesn’t have this kind of books. Most of the people in Valier don’t realize there are subjects like this.

When I wrote the book about Bob Scriver, some people objected. They said he wasn’t important enough -- only really important people have books written about them because it’s an honor, an homage. But then others were VERY impressed that I’d written a book and gotten it published, though they had only the most vague idea of what it meant. They didn’t know about the differences among commercial publishing, academic publishing, literary publishing. It was just a vague idea that it was sort of like getting a Ph.D. or something except that one acquires a LOT of money.

Most of the people who see me around with my baggy jeans, my shirttail out and my baseball cap assume that I got my book printed at a newspaper locally. When they hear that I’m an ordained minister, they assume I’m Christian. There are so many assumptions and unknown distinctions about things in the world. Even I thought that if I just got a book published, my life would be transformed and I’d have enough money to pay off my loan. I was wrong. Now I know of many excellent writers who have had acclaimed books published, prize-winning books, authors who are well-known -- who are as impoverished as I am. (I’m not starving, but there’s barely enough.) So what does all that book reading, writing and publishing get you?

This evening I received a little barrage of emails about N. Scott Momaday, one of the best-known and beloved of the early Native American writers. "A big bear of a man," born in 1934, he spoke in Eugene maybe fifteen years ago. Now THAT was a role model! My mother loved “The Way to Rainy Mountain” and thought that if I could write a book like that one, I would have fulfilled my life.

But there is no safety. I’m just going to reprint the emails, though I might get in trouble -- it might be indiscreet or mistaken. On the other hand, if it makes you want universal health care, it would be worthwhile. I don’t know which tribe enrolls him (he’s from mixed tribes) or what goes on with Medicare and the IHS, both of which have many trapdoors a person can fall through, sometimes personal and sometimes in terms of program funding. The LEAST you can do is go read his books.

Suffering from the debilitating affects of diabetes, Mr. Momaday requires 24/7 home health care and that has drained his personal finances as well as those of the care-giver organization that has
been subsidizing those services. It will be some time before Mr.
Momaday is fully recovered and able to resume his work and that is why I'm writing to ask you to consider making a personal contribution
to the care-giver service COMING HOME CONNECTION, a nonprofit Santa Fe based home health care service provider. COMING HOME CONNECTION is a 501(c) (3) charitable organization and so your contribution to help offset the costs of Mr. Momaday's home health care is tax-deductible to the extent allowable by the Internal Revenue Service. (Although I'm sure that is less important to you than is the opportunity to support one who has inspired generations of native scholars and enriched all of our lives through his remarkable talent.)

I'd ask three things of you to support this effort. Firstly, send your good thoughts and prayers for Mr. Momaday's recovery. Secondly, SPREAD THE WORD and distribute this appeal or write your own to native list serves of which you're a member, circulate among native professional associations, and share with all who might be able to contribute. Thirdly, write your personal check to COMING HOME CONNECTION, designating it for the N.Scott Momaday fund; and mail it to : Coming Home Connection, 418 Cerillos Road, Santa Fe, NM87501.

Holly YoungBear-Tibbetts

(Dr. Holly Youngbear-Tibbetts
received her Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Holly is the recipient of awards and fellowships from the Council on Institutional Cooperation, the Bush Foundation, and The John T. and Katherine D. MacArthur Foundation Grants for Peace and International Cooperation. Joy Harjo is part of this effort to help Momaday. She is one of the most respected NA poets and a hot sax player.)

From: Karen []

Received this morning. I have checked it out and spoken to people at the home health service in Santa Fe. It is legitimate. I understand that
Scott is recovering from surgery and is in a wheelchair. He needs to learn to walk again as he has no feeling in the soles of his feet. It is
better than I thought when I first received the message, but apparently still a long recovery ahead. I inferred that his wife's battle with cancer probably depleted most of their funds.

Karen Strom

1 comment:

prairie mary said...

I'm going to comment on my own blog, since I think that others who are getting the same messages I am are not in communication with each other and would not post anything anyway. There are already people who are accusing Momaday of being a drunk and womanizer and therefore getting what he deserves. There are some who point to diabetes as a scourge that can't be managed. And I like the person who said that both alcohol and women are access to magic, and who could blame a poet like Momaday? We could only be grateful for the result.

Prairie Mary