Tuesday, January 14, 2020


I've never really figured out why my father was so determined to visit every prominent patriotic place of note, not just in the US but also in Canada so it couldn't really be nationalism, though he had lived many years in Canada with his birth family.  They all moved to Swan River, Manitoba, together and then all moved to Portland together, just in time for the Depression.  I've never understood why he insisted on taking his wife and children across the continent in a faulty car towing a tent trailer, only partly subsidized by being sent to the national Cooperatives conference, which served as a kind of denomination since he was a Prairie Humanist.  That is, his cathedrals were grain elevators.

We visited the national parks, the major dams, the most famous hotels, but  without explanation.  Mt. Rushmore, Hotel Frontenac, Hoover Dam, Fort Ticonderoga, and Gettysburg, etc.  (My parents' honeymoon was at Lake Louise and Banff.)  We three sibs slumped in the back of the car reading comic books.  Unless the car broke down, usually in weather extremes like the three foot snow at Bryce and Zion traveling over Christmas or the hundred and ten degree weather at 3PM crossing the Mojave Desert because he couldn't wait until dark as advised.  Then there was the exciting winter day on Dunsmuir Pass with 18-wheelers jackknifed all around us.

There were moments made memorable by food.  I've never had peaches better than those eaten in a Confederate orchard one August.  On the other hand I avoided oranges for a while after we crossed into California and the port of entry would have confiscated our bag of them unless we ate them on the spot.  She was also the instigator when we walked out on what was supposed to be oyster stew at Salton Sea, because there were almost no oysters and it wasn't a sea anyway.

Maybe it had something to do with the completion of "The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, commonly known as the Interstate Highway System, a network of controlled-access highways that forms part of the National Highway System in the United States. Construction of the system was authorized by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956."  These are the transportation infrastructures now crumbling along with Democracy.  Are they related?

My mother seemed to be helpless baggage like us but as soon as I was in high school, she let me stay home alone.  By the time we kids were established in our own lives, my parents spent the end of my father's money and the abundance of my mother's teaching income on a trip around the world and loved every minute of it.  But it wasn't quite the end because my father left again to retrace Lewis and Clark.  My mother thought he might never come back home, disappearing into the Deep South.

My mother stayed home and replaced the monster coal and wood stove with a modern electrical furnace which he had forbidden.  This freed up not only the half-basement the furnace occupied, but also the half-basement storage of the wood and coal.  It also changed the ecology of the house to damp and cool.  My mother was simply relieved not to have to build a fire every cold day.  But she liked travel.  When she was widowed, she signed up for Asian trips with teacher associations and finally got to see what the missionaries of her childhood had always talked about.  She was frankly Christian and faithful to her Presbyterian church though it wasn't attentive to her once her favorite minister left.

But my father's love of country or countries -- which did not extend to Mexico or reservations -- and his allegiance to the democratic process as in the Canadian wheat pool or the Tillamook cheese co-op -- never wavered.  Why was it so strong for him and so easily undermined by other forces?  Television took hold in the Fifties.  The internet has put an end to that -- I don't watch networks because I abandoned television to access specific programs through my computer.  Am I an independent -- perhaps maverick -- thinker because of that?  Did I abandon any political identity with lockstep TV channels?  The UUA has become almost an arm of the Democrats -- are Republicans now an arm of the Fox channel?

Reservations are based on the idea that certain people belong in certain places, but now that half the Blackfeet on the US side are not on the rez, this doesn't seem applicable anymore.  Like me, their relationship to this land is one of attachment, but it doesn't define them.  Perhaps my father was attaching to the continent rather than the country.  I doubt it was conscious.  He often seemed unmoored, lost.  I suspect a concussion from a head-on collision on a winding mountain road at night or maybe it was Parkinson's.  His Prairie Humanism forbade going to the doctor.  People who have no god sometimes throw out docs with all the other authority figures.  And are often unjustifiably control-freaks.  He used to say, "Let's take a vote and then I'll decide."  He saw no contradiction in this.  A massive stroke killed him in his Sixties.

My mother was a strong woman, which was a good thing because my father was on the road most of the time.  She suspected he had a second family because there was never enough money, but she never confronted him.  Her "feminism" was passive and covert, but it was there.  She had been taught morally that one married for life, faithfully, and loyally. But she did a little bookkeeping and took us to the fields to pick berries and beans.  

Also, she always worked for the election board, staying up all night to count votes, and tried to be a political force, often out of indignation over bad management which abounds everywhere.  Her biggest defiance was getting her teaching degree.  She even swallowed her pride to ask her father for money.  He swallowed his, too, and gave it to her.

The pattern of my family was much entwined with the pattern of the country which was also the pattern of the culture, confused as it was when it separated from England.  But Canada is also confused and they didn't separate.  The fortunes of both sides of my family were mixed and most of the people I knew are quite different from me, and yet they have their impact, separate though I am.  I'm not sure myself, this country nor Canada either has done a good job of remembering themselves and why we are here.

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