Friday, July 22, 2011


It's raining hard this morning and the humidity has done nothing for this keyboard.  So I'm recycling a post from another blog of mine:  the Merry scribbler.  This was called "THE MOTHER-IN-LAW HOUSE".  It's been torn down now.  The eMac mentioned here is the one that died this summer. 

There’s a “meme” going around about desktops and books, so I thought I’d throw this in. In 1991 I was fired on trumped-up charges from Heart Butte School. 

Though I wanted to stay on the reservation, I couldn’t think what to do. There are very few jobs other than teaching. I had enough money to stick for the summer if I could find a cheap place to stay. It just happened that Don Schmidt stepped forward to rent me this little “mother-in-law” house. It’s actual dimensions were 20 feet by 20 feet -- not one room, but the whole house: front room, bedroom barely big enough for a double bed, a teeny kitchen and even teenier bathroom. I couldn’t fit my belongings into it unless I stored at least half but there were no storage facilities in town. Then the motel owner across the street volunteered to let me store belongings in an unused motel unit. So I was saved for a little while. This town often reaches out this way, quietly providing solutions, but it is the reason one cultivates good will. If they think you are not deserving, they will stand back and watch you sink.

In an earlier incarnation in a studio apartment in Helena, I had bought a great many cardboard file storage boxes and covered them with contact paper. Stacked, they made pretty good furniture. I always set up a surface in front of a window for a cat to sleep on. This cat is “Killer,” a calico I inherited along with its name. In Helena I’d also bought many rough baskets which kept things more or less gathered up. 

I had a folding “cavalry table” 4’X4’ and a big sturdy “loom” chair -- most people would call it wicker, but it was actually wire wound with paper and then painted. I bought it out from under a guy in a service station in Cardston, Alberta. He had a companion chair with rockers but wouldn’t sell it. This has been my reading chair for many years. These shelves were plastic and came apart into ends and shelves. I finally gave them to my brother. I always set up a U-shape: computer table on one side, typing table on the other (in those days -- now it’s my references), and a big folding table in the middle.

A few people will recognize the first computer I ever owned: a LISA, the earliest of the Apple/Macintosh sequence. When I couldn’t find a job and had to move to my mother’s house in Portland, my childhood home, the only 3-prong plug she had was in her laundry corner in the basement. I sat down there and pounded out one document after another on that LISA. It wasn’t until I finally found a job (a terrible one working for the City of Portland) that I moved into another studio apartment and connected to the Internet.

Sixteen years and several computers have passed since I spent three months in that teeny house. It was so small that one had to come out of the bathroom into the kitchen to dry off after a shower -- there wasn’t enough room to manage the towel otherwise. I had only the barest minimum of belongings. Yet I was quite comfortable there and sometimes I still think about the place. 

This house in Valier has some of the same qualities, though it is bigger. Here I have five permanent working centers set up with a mug of pencils, scissors, staple pullers, a Flair fibertip, various pens and high-lighters, a small ruler, a comb (for shedding cats), a nail file; plus a coaster for coffee cups; a small clock. I’m working on an eMac now. My bookshelves are to the ceiling and are wooden. My file cabinets are metal: ten of them. There are two cats and more windows, all with surfaces for a cat.

But when I start to work, all that disappears and my very much bigger and more complex mental interior unfolds. This reassures me when I think of very old age when I might have to live in a tiny studio apartment again. When it’s warm enough to go out on folding tables in the garage/studio, I’ll begin to empty those files into the wood stove. I’m still keeping an eye out for a rocking chair.                                                                I'm adding a piece from "Heartbreak Butte" I wrote about that same little house.  . . . . . . . . . . . . .                                  
The summer after I was forced to resign from Heart Butte, the Methodist organist rented me his tiny yellow "mother-in-law" house behind his photography studio, separated by a hedge of caraghanas so old that the  trunks were as thick as my wrists.  In the wind at night they knocked together like warriors' staves and on the long hot afternoons the pods dried and exploded open, making soft fusillades of tiny dry peas against my screen door.  I kept the screen door hooked.  I was just down the hill from the School District #9 administration building.  
First thing in the morning, against the stone retaining wall behind my little house, old men would gather to welcome the sun.  They sounded like birds out there, telling stories and laughing.  I would stand at the window with my cup of coffee, trying to overhear.  Sometimes they spoke, Apikunipuyi.
In the middle of the day middle-aged drunks came to sit under my shady hedge and share Big Bear Bear, fortified malt liquor in quarts.  Around lunch time younger men, just out of high school, would come with fast food in sacks to eat and hoot at the high school girls going downtown on lunch break.  Cars would speed in and out and dust would settle on my rooms.  
Late at night when things had quieted down, a very few older men came to the empty lot next door.  They sat at the foot of a big security light pole and "sang Indian," sometimes keeping the beat on a log with sticks.  They were my lullaby.
One night at the end of summer, after even the singers had gone and dawn getting close, I woke up and looked out the window.  One man was sitting out there, silhouetted against the white stucco hardware store across the street.  He was just sitting and gazing, as though he were on empty prairie, one knee drawn up and his arm out straight resting on it.   He was autochthonous, indigenous, of the place, the land, and many long times running into each other-- always going on.  It was easy to imagine him long ago, relaxed in some high place, watching for a vision or perhaps just watching, wondering if there ever might be a time of no more buffalo.
One of Darrell's recent letters began with quotes from Emerson:  
"Everything teaches transition, transference, metamorphosis;  therein is human power."    "We dive and reappear in new places."  
The little yellow house where I stayed belongs to Blackfeet owners now.  It is occupied by a young mother and her child.  Next door, where the photography studio once housed the negatives of portraits of old-time Blackfeet, the Piegan Institute has a workroom, a think tank.  Dorothy Still Smoking works on her Ph.D. upstairs.  I wonder if the men drinking in the caraghanas ever look up at her window.  I wonder if she ever sees that lone dreamer just before dawn.

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