Wednesday, September 29, 2010


So many years ago that I can’t remember when, I began to tear out photos from magazines and save them. They were most often from articles about houses, high-end interior decoration. It must have been in high school when I sometimes housesat for my dramatics teacher. She subscribed to those magazines and decorated her house accordingly. After a while I had so many clippings that I put them into those expandable “red rope” filing pockets. There were maybe three. Then more and more and more. After I moved to Valier, theoretically retired, one of my tasks was to sort these clips and discard most of them, but instead they expanded as decorating came closer to what I wanted this house to be -- “shabby chic,” “Mary Emmerling’s cottage style,” and “romantic French.” I thought. Instead the whole thing went rapidly to “Binder Heaven.”

Not all of these are house clips -- two are the one-page missives I sent back to my home church every week from seminary. Three are about how to fix stuff: plumbing, wiring, building porches and patios. The question is now what to do with them. Not the binders per se -- someone can use them -- but the clips carefully in sleeves inside. I’m not going to do much else to this house and I’m not going to move. My young relatives have tastes QUITE unlike my own.

This is the reworked clothes closet in my back bedroom, now an office. The cabinet at the top contains my family’s photos, mostly black and white, some of them pretty good quality, going back to the homestead days of the Strachans in South Dakota in the early 1900’s and to early times in Oregon. My father was a wool buyer in Eastern Oregon and a mountain climber in the days when St. Helens still had a summit. I gave most of the sheep photos to my niece and most of the mountain climbing photos to the cousin who climbs. One whole album was WWII trophies collected by my uncle, who flew bombers. I sent that to his son, who is an airline pilot. One album was almost entirely about farming in Swan River, Manitoba, which I put on a dedicated blog:, where it can be accessed by family as well as the Swan River Historical Society who are welcome to download whatever is useful.

There is, of course, a record of my sibs and I as we grew up. So far I’m just posting selected photos of myself in preparation for adding print later. My theory is that if I do it over a period of time and try to capture the time and place of Portland, OR., in the Forties and Fifties, the result might be interesting or even provocative. It was a situation in which nothing seemed to happen, and yet there were forces gathering that totally transformed a quiet neighborhood into the violent black ghetto that Portland tries to ignore. My living brother will object. My dead brother has no say.

This array is on top of four four-drawer filing cabinets. The shelves hold two other sets of binders. Dark blue ones are full of slides, more mine than my father's, and so mostly taken in Browning in the Sixties. Lots of them are scenery, meant for reference for painting which I haven’t pursued. The white ones hold manuscripts of books, mostly the ones on in case all the cyber stuff in the world suddenly disintegrates. Or in case I can’t pay for an internet connection anymore and must retreat to paper. I think about such contingencies. In the cardboard box are my grandmother’s journals, mostly accounts of money spent, sometimes trivial amounts for thread, buttons and soda crackers and other times large amounts from sales of farm equipment. When the Strachans began to represent Kovar Krabgrass Kultivator, they made a little money for the first time.

I typed off one whole journal back in the days of xerox before the internet and sent each cousin a copy. It was about a tour of the American West in search of a place to relocate at the beginning of the Thirties. They landed in Portland, times were very hard, and they couldn’t sell the house in Winnipeg for years. The Kovar company had discontinued sales in Canada because of punitive tariffs. It's certainly resonant right now.

In the drawers are teaching materials, correspondence, my Bob Scriver archive, files to use in writing, Blackfeet Indian material.

This set of stacks is on top of three two-drawer file cabinets. The front stacks are to file, the drawers are for kinds of paper and office supplies, and the magazines at the top are going out to the bunkhouse to make way for more binders, binders, binders! Jerome Connelly painted the tree and boulder up in Glacier Park and I traded him a genuine Calvin Boy authentic Blackfeet rattle for it. I think he was expecting something a little more, um, antique. Calvin’s fav fur donor was the rack of Sallie Ann fur coats. In the drawers are my daily business and family genealogy records. Scotland. Oregon trail.

This set of boxes will have to find a new place soon because this is my geranium window which faces the south. There’s a big cottonwood tree out there that shades the window all summer and then drops its leaves to let the geraniums (perlargoniums) bloom in winter. The two boxes on the left are signs of progress: the folders in them are empty. I’ve burned or discarded the contents.

These file cabinets and boxes are all jammed with material, mostly church stuff but some from teaching. I’ll organize, type and Lulu.ize all the minutes and histories of Montana Unitarianism that I can, then send all the raw materials to the Montana Historical Society. One of the black boxes is all the Methodist orders of service and sermons for the year I served Browning and Babb. I had so much fun that I hate to throw them out, but they are hardly immortal stuff. I played a game, trying to reconcile the four recommended biblical readings into one sermon and mostly succeeding. But the orders of service were pulled out of the weather and other circumstances. I typed them off, suitable for Lulu.izing or something.

There are drawers of Unitarian sermons. What to do with them? They are not immortal, but a good scholar might get something out of them. Some of the best went into “Sweetgrass and Cottonwood Smoke,” but not all. Who should decide which are best anyway?

Here’s my secret sorting strategy: the case boxes the cat food comes in. They make excellent sorting trays with a card stapled onto the end to identify what I put in there: “museum de-accessions,” “Tennessee Williams,” “prefrontal cortex,” “material culture,” “vacuum cleaner parts,” “book-binding.” I put up a card table in the open garage and sit sorting in the dusty golden light. But I really ought to wash the windows instead.

1 comment:

Mary Scriver said...

Wow! We all have a big job to do to keep all this stuff organized!

The "black ghetto" neighborhood has continued to transition and I think these days it's home to more creative types--lots of young families and I see more baby carriages being pushed down the street where not so long ago drug dealers hung out and shootings were common. Last Thursday here is a scene you would not believe!

This is from my third cousin, who still lives just up the street from where I grew up.

Prairie Mary