Tuesday, July 10, 2012


There are two kind of people:  those who hate thinking about family and genealogy and those who can’t get enough of it.
Then there’s another distribution among those who just accept whatever was; those who hated the cage the family formed, possibly abuse; those looking for explanations; those looking for how they fit into the larger history of the nation, and so on.  Lots of times there are just darn good stories.  
I’ve been scanning the family photo albums.  My father was a field rep for the Pacific Supply Cooperative, an ag wholesale outfit that finally went corporate under a different name, Cenex.  He roamed the Pacific Northwest and took lots of photos for publicity.  To finish the roll, and sometimes just to make a record of family, he took pictures of us.  In the albums the two sorts of photos are mixed together in the same way he mixed business and family in his life.  I’m taking the family photos out so I can send the business photos (mostly ag -- lots of sheep) to the Oregon Historical Society.
My mother’s mother’ was a gentle woman, competent and loving, who thought she was marrying a man destined for success.  (She taught her daughters to do that as well, though it’s always a gamble and doesn’t always work out.  Partly it depends on how you define success.)  Ethel Grace, whose mother died when she was young, had a stepmother called by everyone “Sairy” (Sarah) who was not friendly to Ethel, which meant Ethel was vulnerable to a man who might be labeled a “grandiose narcissist,” someone fierce enough to defend her.  They were truly in love, but their prune orchard didn’t make enough money even with Ethel’s chicken flock.  After the four girls were grown and gone, “Pop” had to pick up contractor work where he could.   He was an excellent builder.  It was a lonely life for Ethel, an anxious person.

Ethel Grace Cochrane Pinkerton died of lower abdominal cancer.  Her funeral was on Wednesday, February 18, 1948.  It had been a long time coming.  Her doctor said he fought as hard as he could and did everything he knew to do.  I don't know much more than that. except that she suffered and her Christian faith was a comfort to her.  I can't really remember her, but I remember this day, mostly because the daughters were hit hard.
I think that "Pop," her husband John, built this house when they moved back to town from the Roberts Creek prune farm.  I don't really remember the house and only remember the funeral a little bit.

From left to right:  Lawrence Hatfield, who taught Ethel how to drive a car.  Fred Cochrane, Ethel's "baby" brother.  Howard Hatfield, John Pinkerton, Walden Hatfield, M.S. Coon (John's best friend), James Pinkerton (John's brother); Victor Yates, Mrs. James (Florence) Pinkerton, Mrs. Yates, Mrs. Coon, Mrs. Lawrence (Nadine) Hatfield, Lois Shearer (née Yates, a cousin of Ethel’s) who became the second Mrs. John Pinkerton, Mrs. Walden Hatfield, Mrs. Howard Hatfield, Mrs. Bruce Strachan.  In the front, Mary (me), Carolyn and Joan.
According to the customs of the times, they organized themselves boys-on-one-side, girls-on-the-other.  Much more formally dressed than we would be today.  The men are a sturdy looking bunch.  My father never really fit in with them.  He could "talk ag" since that's what his Masters degree was in, but his culture was different.  He read books.

We three cousins hardly understood what was happening.  My dress was pink.  Our three lives could easily be the basis of a novel.  So very different from each other.  

Joan and Carolyn made prosperous marriages with fairly successful kids.  Carrying my mother's pattern,I married a grandiose narcissist, albeit one who succeeded and who is much admired by Western art aficionadoes.  I sometimes say that I vowed to myself when I was not much older than this  (at this moment I’m poised at the end of adrenarche, just beginning proper puberty when one's basic adult identity forms) that when it came to a choice between money and education, I would choose education.  If it came to a choice between security and adventure, I would choose adventure.  I kept my vow, but my two cousins chose the opposite way: money and security.  They didn't have to think about it -- they thought that was the way it was. That has meant distance between us, which is why I’m scanning old photos to bridge that space.  Maybe it is for the sake of their children.  I never had any, so maybe it’s a displacement or compensation of some sort.
My family never confined me.  If it hadn’t been for my mother putting me through Northwestern, I would have gone quite a different way.  Her goal was for me to have security and money and she thought college would give me those -- mine was education and adventure, my own father’s goals which he mostly abandoned.  College as springboard.  Travel would have served as well.  
No one among my cousins really understood what I was up to.  They didn’t know there WAS another way besides security and money.  They were even more baffled when I went into the Unitarian ministry.  Only one of them is a church-goer (the odd-ball lifelong bachelor); none of them is even aware of such a concept as Unitarian or Universalist, though that’s very close to what Ethel Pinkerton really was.
Writing is even more far-out and it hasn’t been until Ethel’s great-great-grands began to appear that the family hasn’t been actively opposed to the idea of our family being a subject for writing, though it’s a hotbed of feuds (Hatfields, after all!), not very suppressed sex, and tragedies, though not very dramatic ones.  They circle the family wagons.  They do feel a lot of pride in things like sports achievement, but I don’t think the people would like me to discuss the string of titty bars down the Willamette Valley.  Or the changes after head injuries, or the haunting dementia of ag chemicals or the torturing back injuries from sheep shearing. 
My cousins have sent their children off to college where they did well and married well.  I know they exist but have barely met them -- some not at all.  The youngsters and I would have more in common than I share with their parents.  But isn’t this the way middle Americans have always been, even the ones with Native American heritage?  Even on the rez?  Over the generations they tend to take the money and security for granted -- even to find it stifling -- and to look for education and adventure.  There’s always an oddball old aunt who got there ahead of them.

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