Friday, September 02, 2016


Lucy Pinkerton Strachan, my mother, about the age I am now.

One of the unexpected benefits of ministry, esp. the UU’s, is that they are an upscale educated bunch who sit there on Sunday morning and watch you closely. In Fellowships, which are too small to hire a full-time minister and meet wherever they can, they may be sitting only six feet away. At coffee hour after the service they will tell you what they deduced — for free. One was a speech therapist who gave me advice about voice strain. One would stand behind me during coffee hour and coach me to accept praise gracefully. The men almost always gave me driving tips since I was circuit-riding.

One very astute feminist psychologist said to me, cocking her head a little on one side, “I’ve figured it out. You married your mother.” I had never made it a secret that I’d married a sculptor 25 years older than myself, that it was true love, but it couldn’t go on because he wanted me to be an assistant-him. Not a free-standing me. I remember screaming at my mother on tiptoe, “I am a free and independent individual !”

The payoff for my love affair was partly physical comforting. My mother was not a huggy/kissy person. When I accomplished something at school — which I did often because I tried so hard — my parents were very proud. Of themselves for being my parents. So I was used to that part, but I craved embracing — you know, unconditional positive regard.

Me and Bob

One of my older friends (89) thinks it’s a great accomplishment on my part that I married Bob. He was shocked when one of his friends his age from Browning said he thought Bob treated me like a slave. There was a payoff — I stayed a child until a year or so after the divorce. All decisions made for me. Bills paid. Safety guaranteed. Until I was into my thirties.

What the feminist therapist somehow saw or deduced was that I spent my life courting my mother without any results. I’d buy her a little present, make her a little compliment, try to please and flatter her — and all the time I’d be defying, escaping, secretly living a covert life. It wasn’t anything sinful. I was just mine. My relationship to my husband was exactly the same. Neither of them ever suspected that they didn’t know me at all.

Bruce Strachan, my father,  after a head-on car collision
His concussion was shrugged off but the damage changed him.

If anyone tried to get close enough to figure this out, I’d run. My fear was two-fold: that my mother would invade me and try to snuff anything she didn’t like or that she’d desert me, discard me. She was strong and determined. Maybe this was why my father was a traveling man. But then I understood that after a concussion in 1948 he was no longer normal and she had to compensate. No one in her generation divorced. EVER.

The relationship with Bob was well-established by the time I married. There were two or three reasons for legalizing. The school froze my salary (along with six other teachers) because we were lovers. (They were really after the others but couldn’t figure out how to exempt me. They accepted me and Bob.) I didn’t quit for another year, but by then I realized that I was putting in a second day’s work after school and beginning to wear out. I began to threaten to leave and even his mother knew it would be a loss. For both of us.

A strong reason for marriage was that my mother always told me no one would ever want to marry me. Unless I did what she said. I thought the price was too high, but I believed what she said. Of course, Bob didn’t really want to marry me — just to own me, which means that she was right. Everything is always definitions. But finally I realized that she had always been told no one would marry her. She had been thirty and enjoying single life. But Roseburg is a small town and she knew there were real cities where life was more exciting. Marriage would take her to Portland.

The little ranch where I wintered over.

The struggle to reconcile myself with Bob was so intense that I began to worry that I’d go crazy and maybe I did. After the divorce I stayed out at our little ranch on Two Medicine all by myself except for cats and horses. That didn’t “heal” me so much as it enlightened me. Bob picked up the tab for everything, including lawyers and groceries, and didn’t bug me about it.

I wanted graduate school. I didn’t know about Unitarian ministry and had no idea about how to become a writer, my real goal. So I thought in terms of clinical psych. Statistics classes were a rude shock. All the time I was at NU on the north end of Chicago, I’d cast my eyes on the south end where the U of Chicago was. Not that I wanted to leave NU. I wanted both. When the UU ministry offered a springboard, I jumped. Bob was proud of me. As though I were his daughter. But I have no desire to marry again. I have no grasp of the concept, nor did I understand ministry really, but it was good preparation for writing.

I think about motherhood and this is where my colony of feral cats comes in handy, since they are constantly performing the biological fact, and present considerable tension with circumstances. First of all, there are too many kittens and after much internal debate I resorted to a country custom, which is drowning newborns. I use warm water and sing to them, then weep a bit. I don’t enjoy it.

The Granny MamaCat in her youth, Smudge, and a kitten who died with no name.
I didn't kill this kitten -- it just disappeared.  The town owl maybe.

But the cats figured it out. Now they give birth away from here and don’t come back until the kits are walking. My murder-impulse is not strong enough to be fatal to them. I should not feed them, but I do. I even warm them in deep winter. This town is awash in cats. The animal control man in the adjacent county says it’s because of leash law — dogs used to kill the extra cats. I have no money for spaying, even if I could catch them. The Granny Mamacat is ferocious — no vet could deal with her if she were conscious and I have no way to knock her out.

The two cherished and protected cats that I acquired when I thought I was teaching have aged out and been put to sleep. I miss them, so I didn’t resist very much when two new cats pushed into the house. The Granny Mamacat’s runt, Smudge, took her remaining kitten (I missed it.) under a pile of windfall branches I save for firewood and raised it in that cold and hard but safe place. That was the Dust Bunny, or now just Bunny, formerly feral female, mentally a little “off.” Finnegan, at first known as the Martian or the Weirdo, arrived as a half-grown kitten from next door and Bunny fell madly in love with him. He showed her how to be domestic.

Forward from a friend who entitled it "The HORROR"

Then Finnegan disappeared just as Bunny became sexual. She had four babies in my bed at my side with me reassuring her. She is so off-key emotionally and narrow skeletally that I thought she might not manage.  She had four babies.  I destroyed two, meaning to leave two, but she took them under the house and back in between the floor joists where I couldn’t even see them. She was her typical clumsy self, carrying them by one back leg instead of their napes — them screaming horribly all the way.

Recently I heard peeping in the crawl space and captured two walking kittens. At the moment they are romping, scaling, chewing, and generally tearing up the peapatch in the house. Bunny goes in and out the cat flap but is more interested in food than anything else, calling for her babies to come nurse or nagging me for tuna fish. She doesn’t lick her babies much. I read an article about rat intelligence, which is closely related to how much their mothers lick them. So I supplemented by stroking, which they don’t much appreciate and makes them pee.

A baby "least weasel"

Mammals as newborns need to have their anuses licked by their mothers in order to move their bowels. I learned this the hard way in the Sixties when we had a baby “least weasel”. (Kids brought us what they caught and Bob paid them a little.) The tiny thing was my responsibility, though I didn’t really know what I was doing — no internet, no vet, no book. I kept it warm, fed it with a tiny bottle, but didn’t know to activate evacuation. It died clearly suffering. One of my long list of painful guilts. This is one of the ways I see motherhood — from the mother’s point of view. And it is mostly biological. I find it helpful. But sorrowful.

I love these tiny kittens: Tux (black with white bib) and Doux (softly gray) and even the irresponsible Bunny. Biological, this love. Which means greater effort for the rational to address.

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