Sunday, October 21, 2018


In the Sixties few Blackfeet had facial hair.  This is a feature of an Asiatic based genome -- not Chinese but prehistorical Siberian.  Some suggest input from the Naledi hominins, something like the European tiny fraction that is Neanderthal.  This is all speculation.  All I know is that few Blackfeet had to shave in those days.  In fact, those up in the foothills of the Rockies where Heart Butte is, where Metis took cover after the Red River Rebellion, men grew mustaches and were called "Hairy Noses," in the Pikuni tradition of joking about appearance.

But some men still had straggling hairs on their faces, which they removed the way women tame unruly eyebrows.  They carried tweezers with them (in the old days it was clam shells that met tightly) and got in the habit of feeling for hairs and jerking them out.  Something like automatically using those little pots of Carmex to prevent chapped lips.  No mirror.

Bob Scriver had a museum, one room of which was dark because behind glass -- as though in an aquarium -- were dioramas inch-to-a-foot of each of the main Montana groups of game animals.  Local people of all sorts often stopped by to ramble through the exhibits and think about them.  Tourists had to pay.  Some were fine with that and others argued.

On this day a white couple paid to go into the museum and the woman happened into the room of dioramas.  The man was still studying the bronze sculptures in the adjacent room.  Already looking at dioramas in the dark was a local Blackfeet man, mild and middle-aged. 

Pretty soon the woman screamed.  She was wearing a dress and claimed that the local man had looked up her skirt.  He was confused and tried to explain that he didn't, but the woman's husband came rushing up and offered to fight him.

When the little group got out to the front, they were emotional.  The man demanded the cops and Bob explained that he was the City Magistrate so they would only be brought to him anyway.  The woman was hysterical and claimed assault.  The man demanded a fight to defend her honour.  Bob took the local man into the back workroom and closed the door.

Pretty soon there were terrible yells and screams from the backroom.  We could hear the thumping of a stick hitting a body  The tourist couple stood transfixed.  Bob opened the door to the back and said, "He won't bother you or anyone else again."  He had a stick and was smacking it in his palm.  The tourists rushed out the front and left with screeching tires.

Bob said, "You can come out now," and the local man emerged grinning.  
"How was my screaming?" he asked.  In the back room with Bob he had explained how he had dropped his tweezers and was feeling around on the floor for them when the white woman came by.  She had totally misunderstood what had happened.  He went into the museum to look for his tweezers again and pretty soon he was back, holding them up to show success.  He waved over his shoulder as he left.

Bob was very pleased with the success of this charade, because to him the point was to get that trouble-making couple out of there so he could get back to work.  But I've pondered it and rethought it many times.  The misunderstanding of this silly woman, powered by her convictions about the sexual predation of dangerous Indians, and the belligerent reaction of the man who saw justice only in terms of a fistfight, were both only promoters of misunderstanding.  What happened was mistaken first and expedient second, not justice.  But it was not the time to discuss depilatory methods among indigenous men.

Nor was there ever a circumstance in a journal or historical article where the story would fit.  In my experiences only teenagers give a rip about the situation at all, since they are so obsessed with cosmetic issues.  No one carries tweezers anymore, but some actually shave and others grow a bit of hirsute decoration.  The indigenous teens obsess about skin color, quite overlooking the fact that the old people lived out in sunlight most of the time but today's young people are most likely to cover all windows so the light won't interfere with watching screens.  Even so do heredity and culture interact.So often it happens that expectations create situations that only mess up understanding.  

I have two younger brothers and we had a small two-bedroom house.  My father refused to move or build on a third bedroom. This may have been the cause of resentment among we sibs, since when I became pubertal, I had a bedroom to myself.  Sex had entered our gender assignments and the boys were not thought to be safe with me.  Most people would have seen it the other way around, but I was considered selfish and predatory while they were young and innocent.  My mother resigned herself to a fold-out sofa in the front room and my father was gone most of the time anyway.

Whatever the cause, "the boys" and I separated and were never trusting again.  They enjoyed mocking me.  I had a LOT of head hair, bright red.  My mother said, "Where does all that hair some from?"  

"Right out of my head!" I informed her.  It scared her a little, not the hair but the other things that came right out of my head.  This is lifelong and was worse after my college degrees.  My brothers called me "hairy Mary."

When I became clergy, I learned that when the Reverend Peter Raible (who was famous and beloved) divorced his wife, she was in feminist mode, and announced she would forsake his name.  Thereafter she was "Didi Rainbow." To make the point, since she was an art teacher, she wore a dress embedded with Christmas lights.  My version of that when long-divorced from the still-remembered Bob Scriver, was to blog as "Prairie Mary," which people can remember but often cannot spell.

In old age the raging red hair that used to fulminate on my skull and which would be very fashionable now, has become a thin white soapsuds accompanied by a lady beard on my chin and some wayward sideburns.  When I remember, I shave my chin, but one of the other consequences of old age is that I forget stuff all the time and rarely check a mirror.  Since I live alone on my own terms, it's of no consequence unless a store clerk is staring at my chin and I realize I've forgotten again.

To local people, even the old ones, appearance is a moral issue.  They remember that sex is connected to hair.  I used to have a friend who would become indignant about the hair of Sally Ride, the Astronaut, because in space her hair floated out in a cloud.  It was only modest to bind it down or cut it short -- otherwise it was a sexual advertisement and what was she doing with those men out in space?  Today's fashion of practically waist-length loose bleached hair is to her mind just blatant advertising.

Today women's armpits can be hairy but their pubis should properly be barbered and men who are totally bald are considered sexy.  Opinion is more political than moral.  I look forward to the day when both race and gender/sex become merely aesthetic.  Some have suggested I be Wary Mary, or at least Scary Mary (which is fun) but all that is a waste of energy for an old lady.

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