Thursday, July 09, 2015


1962.  The first place I lived in Browning: Halseth's rental duplex.  It's under the jeans department in Faught's store now.  I lived in the left hand side.  My mom and brother had come to see how I was doing.  They assumed I would move on.

Houses have been markers for me.  I suppose they are for many people, though being relatively close to the Malmstrom Air Force Base Culture, I’m aware that their singles tend to live in empty white box apartments with leased furniture, all of which looks alike and which comes in sets: sofa and matching chair, TV cabinet, two end tables, two lamps, bedroom set, dinette table and chairs -- that’s it.  When their assigned time here is over, it all goes back to the rental place and the white is repainted.  Then an apartment in the new place with leased furniture.

I’ve gone the other way.  I live in sometimes dreadful places but pack my stuff around, most of it books.  They are mostly my library, the books I know and use all the time.  

Heart Butte Teacherage 

In Heart Butte the teachers live in two strings of connected apartments plus a few trailers.  These “teacherage” apartments are very nice, among the best places I’ve lived.  While I was there, my brother called up from Portland and said, “Our mother is getting upset about the violence in this neighborhood.”  The two of them were living in the house in NE Portland that my father bought in 1938 when he proposed.  In those days it was quiet, mostly old folks with recent European backgrounds.  The Catholic “cathedral,” St. Andrews, was a few blocks away on Alberta.  Alberta, named for Queen Victoria’s daughter,  had a Greek grocery, a Swedish bakery, a German dime store. 

By 1989 the housing, always modest and snug, had been bought up to be rentals held in anticipation for what everyone presumed would be a housing boom.  They were right, but it was too early so they just let them deteriorate.  Crips and Bloods were living on the street, shooting at each other every night. My brother said, “I’m sending our mother to you for a respite from all this.”

Teacherage kitchen

I still had my orange crates.

So I drove to Browning to pick her up from the train.  The depot had been closed for years.  Looking elderly and confused, she was standing on the empty platform -- gray boards on a gray day with a gray wind -- wondering what to do because she didn’t know what kind of car to look for, even though I was the only vehicle there.  But she loved my teacherage and the weather quickly improved.  The hills called her and she took her camera out to walk and gather wild flowers.  (When I looked them up, they mostly turned out to be weeds that appear from overgrazing.)  The superintendent saw her, was curious, and stopped to see who she was.  She thought he was charming.  He told me that he had spotted her trespassing, so he shot her and left her body for the coyotes.  Ha.ha.  

The real problem turned out to be my brother.  An MFA professor of metal-smithing, his MA thesis was a collection of animated armor built over found skeletons of small animals.  They ran along the floor with visors that raised to show yellow glowering eyes.  They emitted smoke.  They made strange noises. 

Paul Strachan's work.  The inset stones in the foot are rubies.

He had fallen and smacked his forehead.  What I now know is that he had a concussion to his pre-frontal cortex and was a man without a rudder.  It was hard to detect because he seemed okay until it came time for decisions or predictions.  Then he locked up. Or blew up.  He knew he couldn’t keep focus enough to work, so his solution was to move in with my mother.  Secretly, he thought he might be crazy.  His college-town sophisticate friends, of an age to be hippie drug-takers, advised him to stay away from any medical people as they would want to do brain surgery or lock him up.  He was not in a relationship.

The plus was that he protected our mother; the minus was that she couldn’t move to a teachers’ retirement high-rise as she had planned.  She couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong with him.  I hadn't seen him for years.  The plan was for me to rescue them.  I did not know that one of the cutting edge researchers on closed skull concussions was at Oregon Health Sciences in Portland.  I didn’t know anything about concussions, though I knew a bit about strokes. I did NOT want to leave the rez.  But it became moot when the three insecure near-incompetent highly paid administrators fired me.  They’re all dead now.  Ha. Ha.

The backyard of my 20' X 20' rental, sans snoozing drunks.

The front room is where I worked on my first computer: a LISA.

I still didn’t want to leave the rez and took refuge in a tiny house that Don Schmidt had built behind his camera shop, a granny house.  It’s gone now -- probably just trucked off rather than demolished.  The bathroom, which was only a toilet and a shower stall, was so tiny that one had to step over into the kitchen to have enough room to wield a towel.  The only sink was in the kitchen.  The bedroom was barely big enough for a double bed if you stood in the doorway.  The front room was enough space for my desk and my first owned computer, a LISA.  I had learned on Heart Butte’s first little box Macintoshs, which Shupe bought from a girl friend who ran a computer business.  They were turning obsolete and she was happy to clear them out. 

Access to the tiny house was up a little hillside where unemployed young men gathered to eat lunch (fortified beer in quart bottles) and jeer at the high school girls.  Sometimes they passed out there in the shade of the caraghanas and if the sun moved enough to put them in direct sun, I went out to roust them.  Schmidt had thought I would run them off and pick up their abandoned bottles.  Wrong.  He also figured his second wife would not be able to sneak off to the tiny house to smoke, which he considered an expensive vice. Right.  And he was pleased to offer me aid and comfort as the castoff wife of Bob Scriver, whom he had succeeded as the Browning music teacher and where he soon failed, partly because Bob had jacked their expectations up so high.  From then on he was the Methodist organist.

That summer after being fired,  while I tried to understand what to do, the woman who housed me during my Hartford church internship called and wanted to stay with me to take a vacation from HER son, who was bipolar -- currently just leaving his manic stage and therefore paralyzed enough by depression for it be safe for her to take a break.  I turned her down. She could not understand my circumstances.  In her experience ministers had rather nice houses and did NOT get fired. 

Inevitably I had to go back to my mother’s house in Portland, out of money, out of job prospects, but now writing.  My LISA was plugged in next to her laundry tubs in the basement because that was the only three-prong plug outlet in the house.  It would be eight months on a rollaway before I was hired at the City of Portland Bureau of Buildings.  I remember exactly the epiphany I had sitting on the Tri-Met bus just as it came off the Broadway bridge by the post office sorting center.  It was raining, my head was leaning on the water-spotted window, and it came to me like a vision that this would be my last real job, but if I could hang on until I was 65, I would have a retirement nest egg.

Instead my mother died in 1999.  I did not replace her as my brother’s keeper, partly because my other brother wanted his share of the house as soon as possible.  He wasn’t working either.  I was sixty.  I should have stayed five more years, but I bolted.  With my share of the money I bought the house I’m living in.  Inside it looks just like the other houses where I’ve lived because it’s the same stuff.  Now I’m up to a mini-Mac and writing from dawn to midnight.  I’ll keep it up as long as I can.

My present house

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