Thursday, December 05, 2019


Ayn Rand never came to Browning and would have hated it.  Yet her writing, esp. "Atlas Shrugged" and the movies made from it, have a major fascination for a certain kind of person -- like a poorly educated middle-class male with self-confidence issues.  The idea was that a brilliant person could raise himself into wealth.

Ruth Beebe Hill came to Browning every summer. She was one of the pilgrims who came to visit "the Indians."  Her husband, Dr. Burroughs Reid Hill, known as "Buzzy," was a Ph.D. researcher at the City of Hope, specializing in cancer research.  Her arrogance was unlimited and the same could be said for her fantasies.  She had pinned her whole life on writing a book she considered the ultimate in accuracy, but her timing was off.  "Hanta Yo!"
(This review is also full of stereotypes.)

By the time it was published, the Native American Renaissance had begun and the mostly mixed-blood authors had become the targets of a political theory that only full-blood indigenous people were authentic and entitled to write books.  She had expected the book to be celebrated by movies, just like Rand, but just squeaked through with a second-tier TV show.  As a last effort to placate the critics, she claimed that with a helper she translated the entire book into Lakota and then back to English.  I don't believe it.

The first whole summer that I was in Browning, Bob developed a viral eye infection that had no treatment except to scrape the cornea and pour iodine in, three times a week. He badly needed help and though I couldn't drive a car yet, I could keep the Museum running while his aging parents drove him to GF for treatment.  His previous girl friend had dumped him for a handsome young truck driver.  Buzzy saved the day by knowing about an experimental drug he heard about at a dinner party that miraculously saved Bob's eye, but dependency between Bob and I had already formed. 

The quid pro quo was that we kept the son, Reid, for the summer to "make a man of him."  We failed and his steady diet of Coke and cigarettes didn't help.  The nearly grown pet bobcat didn't like him and though he kept his door latched, it leapt in his bedroom window to make a pile of excrement on his pillow so toxic and repellent that I just burned it. 

Ruth treated me like hired help and commandeered Bob's new studio home.  Early on, she and Buzzy took Bob out to dinner, making it clear that I was not to come, but I went to Wilma Franklin's café for supper and by chance that's where they had gone as well.  They ignored me, Bob included.  I was rattled but ate my hamburger without even showing signs of recognition -- then bolted.  Wilma and her partner, Pete, recognized exactly what was going on.  The next day at the post office, Wilma approached me gently.  "Little lady, you forgot to pay for your meal last night!"  I dug out a handful of silver dollars to give her and she smiled, patting my shoulder.  She had a son who had had to be institutionalized for some reason and she needed the money.

Bob and I often ate at Wilma's.  He didn't pay me for my work but always fed me.  One day Pete, who bought and sold things informally, brought in a mynah bird he'd acquired.  Its feet were dirty, but when he opened the cage door to take hold of it, the big bird backed into a corner and screamed,  "Help!  Police!  Murder, murder, murder!"  It was clear as any parrot. 

Ruth's other claim to fame was occupying Marlene Dietrich's rather fabulous modern house that Josef von Sternberg had built for her.  Ayn Rand, an admirer of architecture, had bought the place and, according to Ruth, wanted her dear friend to stay there.  Actually, Ruth was more of a caretaker.  When she found out that Bob had been offered a show of his sculpture not far away, she offered to have a second show in that fabulous house the summer of '61. (The first show would pay for transportation.)  Bob and his son found that the upstairs bathroom, which had a wall of window glass and two more of mirror, was so exposed -- even on wooded grounds -- that they went to a service station to relieve themselves.  This was the beginning of being a major success. 

The usefulness of Ruth, whom we called "Ruthie Baby" in what we imagined was the Hollywood way, for me quite apart from Bob was that she poisoned the idea of "success" quite thoroughly.  Her definition was much like Trump's -- free-loading, fantasy, arrogance, and contempt.  It was not quite enough to counter the force of my Scots ancestors, who counselled not to getting ahead of oneself, to always take the safe route, to be safe and never rely on anyone else.  That's what's under my choice to be poor and busy, my sneering at routes to the big time, but vehement objection to the idea of being trivial, unimportant.

It also had a lot to with the disintegration of what was something like marriage.  Bob's mother's family, the MacFies, were also Scots but landed gentry.  Wessie's mother was a cousin to Lady Kemp, whose husband was a Canadian industrialist.  When Wessie came of age, her mother took her on the grand tour of MacFie lands in Scotland but did not mention that their money, which was acquired rather late, came from exploiting sugar and rum in the Caribbean.  Nor did my own family ever mention this Strachan connection to slavery.  

Anyway, Wessie MacFie Scriver was a white woman in Browning with a lot of inherited silver she never used and a duty to go to Canada now and then to "clip coupons" for the money she had inherited from her Quebec family.  She hired the Bremner girls, solid and capable women we thought of as Cree, but who were probably more accurately "Metis", to help clean house.  One remarked that she liked cleaning for the Scrivers because you could tell where you'd already been.  She also worked for Eula Sherburne, another elite old white lady in town, and said it was always already clean.

Ruthie Baby stayed friends with Bob his whole life, the two of them somehow believing that they could make each other rich and certainly confirmed that each other was brilliant and soon-to-be recognized geniuses.  That was the attitude of my other grandfather, the Irish one, who did implant some of that in my mother and then me.  I did get my book about Bob published, but no one has made it into even a TV movie.  "Bronze Inside and Out."

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