Thursday, December 26, 2013

Taking a break

Dear readers,

I hope you've enjoyed these quotations from Ardyth Kennelly's works old and new (the yet-to-be-published ones) and the excerpts from the journal of Ardyth's husband, Egon Ullman. This last week or two I've quoted from the chapter in The Peaceable Kingdom about Linnea's Christmas at the Orbits' home, a chapter that so many of her fans seem to love.

At this point, I'm going to take an indefinite break from posting new items, but please feel free to comment on the blog or on any of your favorite quotations. I welcome any comments or questions!

If you're already an Ardyth Kennelly fan, you will love reading her new book, Variation West, and her memoirs when they are all published next year. Her storytelling genius only expanded during 1977-94, the period when she wrote the new novel, and her memoirs are delightful as well as revealing.

If you're new to "Ardyth's world" (as an exhibit of her collage art was called), be prepared for something very unusual. If you like long stories, short stories, and lots of them--especially stories of times past in the West--you'll love her writing.

Nancy Trotic
(Ardyth's step-great-niece)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

One of the merriest

It had been one of the merriest Christmases anybody ever had!
     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Something out of the ordinary

"This Christmas was a day that'll stick in my mind till I die. Them little angels with their wings! Them little angel costumes! Them little pieces they spoke! I'll remember all that when I'm a old lady. My kids'll remember it when they're old ladies. They'll never forget it. Why, stuff like that--stuff like that, Mr. Orbit--" she groped for words. "Somebody that ain't like nobody else, that's as different as a blue moon's different from a regular moon, that goes at things in a way out of the ordinary--what I'm trying to say is, that gives you something out of the ordinary to think about and something out of the ordinary to remember, why, they're important, Mr. Orbit," she said, "they're awful important. Whenever the world gets so there's nobody out of the ordinary in it no more, it'll be a pretty sad old world, that's all I can say! A pretty sad old world!"
     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Monday, December 23, 2013

Real Christmas angels, and one more piece

About the dinner Mrs. Orbit's words were as good a description as could be found: it should have been framed and hung upon the wall to admire--and it tasted as good or better than it looked. But the hours in the parlor afterwards, when, the dishes done and the kitchen left spick and span, they all retired there, were scarcely less enjoyable. There was such a roaring fire. . . .
     They ate nuts and apples. Mrs. Orbit brought out a brown paper sack of chocolate drops which she passed around. . . . She picked up her mandolin from the corner where it was leaning against the wall with a red ribbon about its neck like a petted dog, and had it in her lap and was plinking and planking the tunes of "Willie, We Have Missed You," "Murmur, Gentle Lyre," "Then You'll Remember Me," "Alice, Where Art Thou?" "Polly Wolly Doodle," "We Three Kings of Orient Are," "I Traced Her Little Footprints in the Snow" and other songs too numerous to mention, while all joined in and sang. In the yellow lamplight, in and among the dancing red firelight they sang and talked and laughed and played games. It was a Christmas scene to be drawn by hand, by an artist, to illustrate a book about yuletide. Even the four little angels, once pathetic and ridiculous in their costumes, skipping around in cold and chaos with their draperies held up, or stumbling over them, were now idoneous and relevant, real Christmas angels, settled on the roses of the ingrain like doves upon a bower.
     When it was time to go, Rosabella had her inning. She didn't need any help from anybody. She knew her piece as Joseph Smith knew his pieces from the Lord. All the guests had their coats on and were ready to go; they were only milling around and the adults were saying a last word to each other. Mamma didn't even have to give her the high sign. She ran four or five steps up the steep staircase. Mamma held the lamp up high and cast its beams upon her. She hitched up her robe and her wings fluttered. Then she recited gloriously:

     Dear friends, good night, the day is o'er,
     The happy Christmas is no more.
     We hope you have enjoyed yourselfs and had a happy time
     Here in our house in this snowy clime.
     Good wishes go with you out through the door,

She pointed first to the guests and then to it, significantly,


     "It could be printed in the papers," Linnea declared. "Honestly to goodness, if it couldn't."

     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Juanita speaks her piece

When things started to circle around and be passed and the mothers began to fix two or three plates besides their own for the littlest ones who could not do the jobs themselves, Juanita started to tug on her mother's arm to try to get her attention. Mrs. Orbit, busy and happy, with a flushed face and bright eyes (Linnea's was the same, and Mr. Orbit's was the same, and so were all the girls') kept unconsciously flicking her off as one flicks off the winged company of sticky summer nights. She kept coming back, pawing and whispering. Finally, she let out a howl.
     "What's the matter with Juanita?" everybody said.
     "It's her piece," Gloriana elucidated.
     "Oh, my God," Mr. Orbit said mildly, chewing, with a look of glazed beatitude on his face and a loaded forkful poised beneath his nose, ready to go  into his mouth when he should be able to receive it.
     "Hush," Mrs. Orbit said. "That ain't no way to do at the table. Bawl." She looked bewildered at her child. "What's wrong with your head?"
     Juanita howled louder.
     "Don't you remember?" Gloriana said. "Her piece!"
     The two other angels joined in, nodding their heads vigorously. "Her piece! She gets to speak one, too. . . ."
     "Well--" said Mrs. Orbit doubtfully. "It don't fit in so good any more . . ."
     Juanita could hear by the leniency in her voice that all was well, so she scrambled to a standing position on the seat of her chair, taking a deep gasp, throwing out her stomach and reaching back to scratch the spot where a wing sprouted. She opened her mouth. No sound came. She opened it again.
     "Eat hearty and with good appetite," Gloriana prompted her.
     "All the things on our festive board," Guinevere added softly.
     . . . The piece in its entirety went as follows:

     Eat hearty and with good appetite
     All things on our festive board.
     Take the cup and quaff it up:
     Drink to the bottom of the gourd!
     Nobody on their way will ever lurk
     If they know when they arrive they are going to get a turk!
     Oh, what, oh, what is oh, so jolly,
     As the Christmas feast beneath the holly?

(There wasn't a square inch of holly, but it sounded very pretty anyway.) . . .
     Juanita had sat back down with a thud. Now she was busy shining while they spoke of her.

     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Conspiring to please and bless Mrs. Orbit

Linnea and Mr. Orbit decided that Mrs. Orbit must have dropped off upstairs and they hoped so. They were conspirators now, conspiring how to please and bless Mrs. Orbit, and they hoped she would nap along until the feast they were preparing was on the table. Mr. Orbit did a lot. He kept the fire going, and peeled potatoes and dried the dishes, while Linnea went ahead and worked the miracle. She brought about perfect order in the topsy-turvy kitchen. She made apple pies, raised biscuits, cranberry sauce and never left a dirty dish behind her. At intervals she turned practised Apician eyes upon the pork roast popping and snapping with juice and turning more and more golden brown. She set the table for ten and in the exact center placed that more than decorative piece, the frosted fruitcake.
     The dinner would not be ready to sit down to and eat until six-thirty, but at a little after five Mrs. Orbit appeared with the shamed strained eye-swollen miserable look of the man who has crept in the house at broad daylight with his shoes in his hand after having been out all night drinking and squandering his salary and doing God knows what else besides.
     “Merry Christmas,” Linnea said with twinkling eyes through the steam of the potatoes. She had just taken the lid off the kettle and was sticking a fork into them to see how much longer they had to cook.
     Mrs. Orbit’s face worked. She saw, not in detail but panoramically, that electrifying changes had been made in her kitchen. It looked beautiful, it smelled beautiful. Best of all, it was working, perking, running, a going concern. There was light to it, life to it, snap to it. It had a beating heart and a reaching soul. “Merry Christmas,” she said brokenly. Then she put her hands up before her embarrassed face and she bawled.
     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Friday, December 20, 2013

"Let's us play like . . ."

There were a few toys in the Orbit household, if they could ever be found, but none of them were recalled to be in very good shape. Nobody had seen any of them for a long time. For Christmas they had received not much more than the Ecklund sisters. Toys, however, did not much signify, and well equipped with next to nothing but far-reaching imagination they began to play.
     As the steam runs the steamboat and folly runs the perpetual motion machine, a bubbling song runs the game of pretending. It starts Let's us play like and ripples anywhere.

     We're rich!
     I'm the Papa, you're the Mamma!
     Here's our house!
     Here's our back yard!
     Lookut us!
     I'm a old lady thirty-six years old!
     You're a old man with whiskers clear down to here!
     I got a silk dress hiked up in the back!
     Here's our kids!
     Johnny! Bessie! Mary! Nephi! Pearl!
     Here's our table!
     Here's our house, our boat, our sleigh, our wagon!
     Lookut our things!
     We found a sack of diamonds lost downtown!
     Wouldn't give um back!
     Kept um!
     Lookut us!

It flows and meanders anywhere, any tiger, any crown, any sharpshooting gun, any necklace, any blue satin, any France, any scope, any face, has only to be reached out for and plucked as it grows down-hanging and full of flowers, its leaves in the water. . . .

     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Thursday, December 19, 2013

"She wasn't soaring far"

While the poor embarrassed man complained Linnea made little soothing noises and surveyed the kitchen. She had to take stock before she knew which way to enter the fray. There seemed to be great numbers of pots and pans that had been put to soak and stood here, there and everywhere half-full of discolored water. Linnea was glad Inegborg didn’t have a chance to see the cupboard. She would have fainted dead away. The tumbled oilcloth-covered table had on it not only unwashed dishes marked prominently with hardened egg yolk, but beads of honey strung in a row like a necklace, half-emptied jam bottles and a frying pan a third full of cold bacon grease. A stack of newspapers, a small gaiter, Demorest’s Monthly, a green book entitled The Bride of Llewellyn or, Cruel as the Grave, and a clean but unironed corset cover also decorated the table. There was, however, a roaring fire in the capacious stove. That made up for a lot of things. So did the sight of various buckets, baskets and sacks, on pantry shelves, warming oven, kitchen dresser and even on the floor, full of sweet potatoes, cranberries, parsnips, Idaho potatoes, two monstrous fresh cabbages, flour, sugar, butter and apples—the makings of a Christmas dinner fit for the President of the United States. Not only that, there was a huge pork roast in the oven. Linnea looked at it. Its thick coating of fat was unmelted except for a transparent layer the thickness of tissue paper and it was not warmed through, but when it was done it was going to be a pork roast of pure white and golden brown, full of juices and flavor (plenty of salt, plenty of black pepper), that started the saliva running at full blast even to think of it! Linnea beamed happily, rolling up her sleeves and tying a small plaid tablecloth found hanging over the back of a chair, around her waist for an apron.
     Shyly Mr. Orbit, much comforted by her words and manner, twitched back a fringed paisley couch cover and revealed, on the foot of the lounge on a large platter under a dishtowel, a huge cake sparkling with hard white frosting. “She went to work and made it this last week. Receipt Ma had.” He tried to say it like it didn’t amount to much but his eyes gave him away. “Dark fruit cake. Like we always had a saying about hash, Everything in it but the kitchen stove. Don’t look like she made much of a bobble of it, either, does it?”
     “Bobble!” Linnea said, “I should think not! Why, I never seen a prettier sight in my life!”
     “Receipt Ma had,” he repeated.
     “You see!” Linnea said triumphantly. “What she can do when she puts her mind to it! Anybody that can clean up and doll up a parlor like that, and anybody that can bake such a cake, why, I tell you something, Mr. Orbit, if she’d take a notion, why, there wouldn’t be a woman alive that could outdo her!”
     He beamed. “Ma used to say to me, Alvin, she’d say, Izola’s all right,” he said, “the only trouble with Izola is, she ain’t just anchored like she should be, she kind of wants to soar off into space. You keep her from soaring off into space, Alvin, she used to say to me, and you got something.”
     “You have, too.” Linnea said. “She wasn’t soaring far when she baked that cake.”

     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mrs. Orbit's parlor

Mrs. Orbit had tacked twisted red and green streamers of paper at intervals all around the picture molding and drawn them together in the middle of the ceiling, with just the right and artistic pendency, and hung there a honeycombed red paper bell. Red paper bows perched like feverish butterflies upon every picture frame. The fragrant Christmas tree, now seen to be standing in the corner tastefully trimmed with popcorn strings, gilded walnuts, pasteboard cutouts and numerous candles, could hold its own with any tree in Zion. And what was this innovation? Mrs. Orbit had used soap and drawn with it in grand style upon the mirror a ghostly holly wreath and the head of St. Nicholas. Also she had printed  M E R R Y  X M A S.
     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

All over everything!

It was more of a surprise that Mrs. Orbit did not step out of the gloom and greet them with more Christmas poetry, than if she had. "Where's your mamma?" she inquired, peering all around.
     "She's upstairs throwing up," Gloriana said.
     "All over everything," Guinevere added.

     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Monday, December 16, 2013

Greeted by poetic ghosts

It surprised her and she gave a little jump when the door flew open with a bang and either Gloriana, Guinevere, Rosabella or Juanita--well, perhaps not Juanita, for she was, after all, only a little past three--but they all looked so much alike and were so nearly of an age that it was hard to tell one from the other--stood dressed in white like a small-sized ghost haunting a large-sized doorway and cavernous dark hall beyond. "Well, hello!" Linnea said. "Merry Christmas."

     Dear Mrs. Ecklund, and family, come inside,
     On this happy Yuletide,
     You will find all warmth and cheer
     In your honor waiting here.

the little ghost cleared her throat and recited. . . . In the faint light, by straining the eyes, it could be dimly seen that she was wearing something like a white shroud, with a pillow stuck in behind and amorphous curls, lumps of hair in rag curlers, like knots on a club. . . . 
     "Which way did you say we was supposed to go?" she asked the little guide.
     This conjured up out of the shadows another small white shape, wearing a similar shroud-like garment and lumpily crowned by the wreath of rag curls. She was guarding the parlor door, which she now pushed open with a squeak. Beckoning theatrically she recited:

     Enter here our portal gay
     On this merry Christmas day.
     In the shining candlelight
     One and all must now make merry
     Before our Christmas fire SO CHEERY.

     "Well, what do you know," Linnea said. "Are we supposed to go in the parlor? My, that sounded pretty." . . .  "What you kids got on anyway?" she asked.
     "We're angels," they announced. "These here is costumes."
     "Of course!" Linnea said, smiting her brow. "I must be rumdum."

     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Linnea had misgivings

Linnea had misgivings about spending Christmas with the Orbits and wished she had not had to promise. Everybody knew Mrs. Orbit did not even set a Christian table for her own family, but let them help themselves at any hour of the day or night to bakery bread, eggs, coffee, cheese or whatever they could find. Not only that, she was renowned for her poor housekeeping, and when all the other ladies were in the midst of Spring Housecleaning or Fall Housecleaning, Mrs. Orbit wasn't in the midst of anything except a book called Ethelyn's Mistake or The Lost Heir of Linlithgow or Spectre Lover.
     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Saturday, December 14, 2013

It's never really what you wanted

Why is it God never grants anything when or the way we want it? It’s always his version, like you tell a guy over and over just what you want for your birthday, then you open the package and it’s . . . not it.
     --From Variation West

Friday, December 13, 2013

New York isn't big

“New York isn’t big at all, it’s little. . . . It’s just this one little village, even Times Square, even Beekman Place, repeated over and over hundreds and thousands of times.  Little hamlets.  All nestled up against each other, people stay in them the way they do in villages.  You see if you live in one, they’re there.  But the effect is of one great big terrifying city, a big, immense, full-spectrum, rattling, teeming place.  But it isn’t. It’s just—villages.  But we don’t know.  We say New York and shake in our shoes.”
     (A few months after I got back home in Portland, Oregon, I read a piece in Harper’s magazine or somewhere that said practically the same thing, only sparklingly and with say-so like a high intelligence.)
     --From Ardyth's memoir New York on Five Dollars a Day

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Talent, concentrated

That was what he was. Talented. But talented like a river that’s all little streams and runs. Like, say, for Christmas you get nothing but little stuff. Not one big whopping present, like a diamond or Cadillac. What it ought to be, talent, was concentrated, collected. At a center, like those throbbing black stars one teaspoonful of which would weigh one hundred million tons. The purest . . . all the different rays . . . the burning glass that sets the Burning Bush on fire.
     --From Variation West

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"Who is the mamma in the house?"

With each housecleaning, minor and sometimes major, rearrangements take place which, at first, invariably confuse me. If I try weakly to ask why or offer an alternative which at the time seems to me to be more practical, I am usually cut short with a "who is the mamma in the house?" which makes me abide and pay no further attention. Only once in a great while it has happened in the past, not in this but in another house or two, that I came home at night and walked into our bedroom to take off rain-soaked clothes before presenting myself only to find out that where the bed used to stand there was a desk, and my clothes cabinet had moved without telling me to another room. I used to be frightened by such unforeseen and surprising moves. But I found out that such changes take place in complete order and no more than a question is necessary to get me the full information as to where my house robe or my stockings or tax receipts will be kept from now on.
     --From her husband Egon's journal, Christmas Day 1947

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

It's God on the line

“I just got to wondering,” she said this day. “We say ‘my conscience’ like we’d say ‘my nose’ or ‘my hand.’ And we feel its pain, and its pain, like I say, is its pain, not like any other. But then we don’t know what we’re talking about.”
            “King David’s heart hurts him when he’s been crooked,” he said after a little thought. “Job’s heart tells him ‘You did nothing wrong.’ But old Thomas Aquinas had it figured this way, conscience is really a telephone line. Telephones hadn’t been invented then, of course, but that’s how he described it, man and God hooked up like . . . What he really meant . . . a hot line. Lift the receiver, ‘Man?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘God.’”
     --From Variation West

Monday, December 9, 2013

"He could not unbuild it now"

The role he had effortlessly assumed and unconsciously learned, he was still playing and would play. . . . How easy it was to be a patriot who had avenged his country's wrongs by spectacular assassination. How hard it had always been to be himself! This role was so easy. It asked so ridiculously little of him--just to lie here until the time came to cross the river, just to keep from walking around on his broken ankle, just to escape. . . .
     The role, however, was growing harder to play. Almost as hard, if one faced it squarely and took everything into consideration, as it might have been to go ahead and play himself, a handsome young actor full of unnatural love and hatred, with a soul in torment and a lost voice. If it got much harder he might have to give up the part altogether. But no, he could not do that, could he? He had to keep on with it, because, terrifyingly, assassin and self were now one and indissoluble. He brought his right hand up close to his face and looked at it. That reverberating death of Lincoln, that enormity, that amplest structure in America--he could not unbuild it now. With this hand, it was built forever and nobody could push it down. He hid his hand in the water over the boat's side, but not to cool it for it was cold as death.
     --From The Spur

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Masquerading as thin

She was of an essentially plump genus coerced and bedeviled into masquerading as thin.
     --From Good Morning, Young Lady

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Resistance (to French chocolates) is futile

The worst difficulty was the French chocolates in the ribbon-tied boxes. . . . One ruse was to lock the box in the lower left-hand compartment of the buffet, and hide the key and try not to be able to recall where it was but this was a failure every time. Alma Morelewski found that the best way to do was, after the box was about half empty anyway, to eat up all the rest of the candy in it at once so she would not have to think about it, and pray that Mr. Morelewski would not be put in mind to bring her any more, perhaps ever. But he did, after a week or two, or three, depending on when he happened to remember, and in spite of her various resolves, she was always more glad than sorry to see the familiar oblong package with Schramm-Johnson's printed all over it.
     --From Good Morning, Young Lady

Friday, December 6, 2013

The greatest danger to beauty

To the Queen, food had ever been the one, true, never-failing source of pleasure in life and she ate often and earnestly, would have eaten more often and more earnestly did not a nagging little voice from the region of her conscience lift itself to say that food might be the cause of fat, and fat was the danger of the world to beauty. And what would be so bad as to lose that greatest gift? To the ordinary person, maybe going blind or falling down hopelessly paralyzed might compare, but these catastrophes seemed of small consequence beside that one.
     --From Good Morning, Young Lady

Thursday, December 5, 2013

"Like a stage magician"

It was funny, though, what happened the year the so-called Utah harems made headlines once more in the Eastern papers, and like a stage magician pulling a tablecloth from under a pile of dishes without breaking any, Congress tried to outlaw the Mormon doctrine’s plurality of spouses without doing any harm to religious freedom.
     --From Variation West

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

No fun in the Portland cemetery

Mother didn't want to be stuck up in the Portland cemetery where she didn't know anybody, all by herself with just Egon and me. She wanted us all to be buried in Albany. After all, who did we know in the Portland cemetery? A few nodding acquaintances, no relations or close friends, and what fun was that?
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Nothing new

I read her some biographical notes on William James from Mathison’s book, and we discussed Pragmatism. She found the meaning of James’ thoughts as almost “childish”, commenting how strange it is that men can devote their lives to explain things that are really self-understood and need not to be talked much about--and become famous with it. She did not think I told her--or James, rather--anything new.
     --From her husband Egon's journal, January 26, 1948

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cut off and cursed

He was cut off from the church and cursed in his basket and his stores, his parts and powers of procreation.
     From Variation West

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sinners lived there, too

Not that sinners, reprobates and sly offenders didn’t live there [in San Bernardino] like anywhere else. A headstrong girl turned down a man high up in the church because of his white-filmed eye and the fur on his tongue (and got the licking of her life). One time a calf was stolen, the Roberts lost a shift off their clothesline, pies had vanished cooling on a sill. But of course that could have been thieving Mojaves. The Lord’s name was taken in vain, the Ten Commandments went against. Many a wife and house had been coveted. Maid-servants would have been coveted too, oxen and asses also, had any lived around there at the time, which none did.
     --From Variation West

Saturday, November 30, 2013

No prettier new-born baby

That early evening, after supper, the wonderful thing happened. The two Mrs. Barneses had been to call in the afternoon--they came right away after Gertrude was there to make her announcement--under a black cotton umbrella, with clean aprons on, bringing a milk bucket full of soup and two pies. It was all they had on hand, they said. Tomorrow they would do better. They said they never saw a prettier new-born baby. They had seen plenty, they said, but they never saw a new-born baby to equal Parley. Mr. Taylor brought a dishpanful of fresh-picked strawberries. He said the baby looked like a baby that was going to grow up and make them all sit up and take notice.
     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Friday, November 29, 2013

". . . and vote Democrat."

. . . my stepfather Hiram Parker, who married my mother when I was twelve and to whom I owe anything good about myself such as always being punctual ("the courtesy of kings") and if I start a job finish it, get up in the morning, pay your debts, vote Democrat.
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The problem of holidays

In unlawful cohabitation, otherwise known as polygamy, there were many problems to work out. For instance, what about holidays? Olaf did the following: If he spent Thanksgiving with Sigrid one year, the next Thanksgiving found him at Linnea's spending the day with her. The same with Easter or New Year's eve. He spent two Pioneer Days straight hand running, however, with Linnea, Sigrid being at home in bed getting over a miscarriage, and although she didn't say boo at the time, on later occasions--even years after--and in fact starting the very next day, she threw it up to him until he wished he had never heard of Pioneer Day or Lagoon or anything else.
     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ardyth, laughing, in a new dress

Today I have seen her only briefly, soaped and laughing; she was working all day upstairs and came down only to take a bath and have dinner. She tried a new dress on that Mother had made for her—except the buttonholes, which she usually  buys at the Singer Sewing Machine Co., out of grass-green striped material with a bustle below the waist. She looked so sweet in it I wanted to be a baby kangaroo resting easy in the ventral pouch of her bustle while she grazed through the house.
     --From her husband Egon's journal, November 23, 1947

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

History as living semblance

History took on living semblance, the noise of life began for him in the quietened past.
     --From Variation West

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pride when he pronounced

Like at the theater, when the call came Is there a doctor in the house? How proud she had been when Doctor stood up, went up to where the man lay in the aisle, knelt down and laid his head on the man’s glassy shirt-front, then looked up and said “Moribund.”
     --From Variation West

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Four years

Young Dr. Mudd raised himself up on his elbow and listened.
     "That's somebody at the door," he said. . . .
     Lightly he stooped and gave his wife a kiss that just grazed her temple. "I'll be back in a minute, lovey."
     Four years, lovey. They will arrest him for treason and assassination, imprison him, stick his head in a padded canvas bag through the hottest days of summer, chain him and try him before a corrupt jury. Then they will sentence and ship him away to a dungeon in a fortress on the Dry Tortugas, where death grows, and disease, rich as verdure. He'll be back. But he won't be the same again, lovey. Never again.
     --From The Spur

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Not all the time

The world is a shabby fellow and uses us ill, but not all the time.
     --From Variation West

Friday, November 22, 2013

"So natural and so artless"

The novel progresses so natural and so artless as to make the tremendous emotional effort she makes appear to be completely absent. Yesterday evening at the reading of one of the best chapters, she cried so bitterly, with the tears running down her cheeks and her eyes turning red, that we had to interrupt for a while. It was all about the cow Bonnie having been sold.
     --From her husband Egon's journal, January 17, 1948

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Dorney and Grandpa

“I don’t know what George [Cassidy] done except have a ripsnorting high old time like always. Went to the dances Saturday nights. George, he’s a fellow that’s very light on his feet, ain’t a dance that stumps him. One little lady up there—rancher’s daughter—she was pretty far gone on him, I guess. Very near had her heart busted. Same way with several.”
     Dorney lifted up her chin.
     “Put a claim on George yourself, huh?” he teased, eyeing her. “Got your dander up, huh?”
     She looked down.
     “Because just as well try to catch the wind, is all the advice I can give you.”
     She looked up again. (Not catch, you know. Be, you know. Somebody on the go, Grandpa. No more no, no. Nobody on the watch. Going, Grandpa. Person’s own boss. World spread out all over. Horse a-flying. Catching, Grandpa? Being.)
     “When I get big,” she began, and stopped helplessly.
     “Yes, ma’am.”
     “I’ll—” She stopped again.
     “Yes, ma’am.”
     “I’ll certainly—”
     He waited a moment. “You better not,” he said. “There may be a law agin it.” He smiled at her. “But on the other hand, there may not be.”
     --From Good Morning, Young Lady

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Quoting: "Won't you sit down?"

What is education? Lafcadio Hearn said it is what is left after everything you have learned has dissipated into air. But say it never does dissipate, never does fuse or melt so the gold is never extracted? What shall you do then? The next best thing is to quote, my dear, like sitting down when you are tired. Once in Altman's department store Emily Post, fatigued by shopping and unable to find a chair, sat down on the floor with her legs stretched out in front of her and her packages to either side, and sat there, too imperious to be challenged, till she was ready to get up again. Quoting is like that. A chair trundled up. Won't you sit down? Thank you, I think I shall, just here on a remark by William James to the effect that "Experience is the state of having been occupied in the intercourse of life."
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What the bon ton was doing then

The Salt Lake Tribune printed the story of the housewarming on the front page. Twenty-eight rooms, area for a ballroom on the third floor, twenty-two-foot ceilings, corner towers, satinwood, rosewood, two dining rooms, kitchen of solid slate, ten-foot-wide airtight cookstove, built-in safes, one for the family silver made out of a ton of Ophir ore, one for Napoleon brandy and other fine liquors, one for valuables such as the Russian necklace of sapphires and a diamond bracelet that goes around the arm above the elbow five times and has three hundred diamonds running along it . . . Hot water flows through the towel racks to keep the towels warm. A carriage house, a stable, blooded horses, six house flunkies, two yard men, a stableman, coachman and man of all work. Only one other set of china like it in the world! Peacock-blue satin draperies, four hundred and two and three-fourths yards at three English pounds per yard (fifteen dollars), figure it out for yourself. Drawing room carpet alone cost five thousand dollars . . . orchestra . . . roses . . . champagne corks popping like the Battle of Antietam . . .
                The Tribune said it would like to be able to turn the clock back, to twenty or thirty years ago, and see what the bon ton, the elegantly clad company at the party, was doing then. Bent over pick, shovel and sluice box some of the haughtiest now, sweat running down their bare backs, or keeping a saloon or working in a boarding house or freighting over the mountains or hammering up a shack. Sleeping at night on a rough board bedstead with poles across for slats and a mattress and pillow stuffed with dried bulrushes; old blankets, bedbugs, lice; a filled-up private place of ease out back; soap made out of soup-fat and clay. Eating pork and beans, greasy steak, spuds, pickles, dried-apple sauce. No swans then of spun sugar and isinglass, no consommé de volaille, galantine of turkey, pheasant, bécasses et bécassines, and twenty-seven kinds of cake and candy.
                But such are the opportunities in this great land of ours if people are willing to roll up their sleeves! Or, as Minerva said when she read the account, in some cases roll up their skirts at the right moment.
     --From Variation West

Monday, November 18, 2013

Reading the Good Book--or not

In a land like ours, where Protestant principles long severed from the Roman communion hold sway, to cast off the Bible would be like repudiating soap or the Winchester carbine. So where members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dwell the Good Book dwells also, large and with a Concordance, as a parlor embellishment and place to press a flower and keep family records. But as to reading it, that, the Saints of the Last Dispensation leave to the Gentiles, while the Saints themselves draw from the clanking Book found hidden like fairy gold in the Hill Cumorah that which, uncreated and eternal, subsists more in the essence of the Deity than all the other evangels in the world put together!
     --From Variation West

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Norwegian in her

I returned home to get some books and found Ardyth dressed in my GI pants, huge black socks and one of my T-shirts drinking coffee. She was going to scrub the floor in the kitchen, much to my dismay, because whenever she does I feel utterly distressed. But, she says, it's the Norwegian in her that makes her do it.
     --From her husband Egon's journal, November 25, 1947

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The dangerous future

Young men look forward, they back the future, whose business it is to be dangerous.
     --From Variation West

Friday, November 15, 2013

The blessing of polygamy

Mrs. Fay Hatch and Mrs. Pearl of Great Price Hatch said if they had it to do over, they wouldn’t (in secret and against the teachings of the church) tip a table to make contact with their husband Douglas and bring him back from the dead. Because now, of his own accord, what had he done but went back to the same schedule he used to hew to when he was alive? Monday Fay, Tuesday Pearl, Wednesday Fay, Thursday Pearl, Friday Fay, Saturday Pearl, Sunday at his mother’s house, Monday again with Fay and so on through the week. But now, of course, as a spirit or ghost, all he could do was, as you might say, haunt, make knocking noises, mischief or a nuisance out of his self. “But that is the blessing of polygamy,” Fay said when she told Hindle about it. “Only three days a week.”
     --From Variation West

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"The harmony within"

He is but a young man of twenty-two, a wandering cowpuncher, rancher and miner, nobody, nothing, but eyes light up when he walks in, the heart feels lighter. He smiles like a beam of sun, but it is not that. The curious, honoring, improvident eyes shine with good intent, but it is not that. What, then? Why is one man loved and another scorned? For what he gives or withholds? What he thinks or thinks not? Is it not rather "the harmony within" that steadies like the sight of the Pole Star?
     --From Good Morning, Young Lady

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Butch Cassidy lived, all right

Author's note: One of the characters in this book is a man who really lived: Butch Cassidy. He was a cowboy, rustler, robber and the leader of a gang that would have made Jesse James's outfit look sick: The Wild Bunch. He was a great fellow and pulled off some great stunts.
     He lived, all right. Still does, maybe.
     You are told this so that should his image amid the feigned and fictive here (like the actor Grossmith at Madame Tussaud's one day fooling the customers) all of a sudden give a wink and begin to poke its hand out to you smiling, you will not get scared out of seven years' growth.
     --From Good Morning, Young Lady

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Mrs. Birdsey's compliments

She went into raptures over everything, Bishop Birdsey's wife did. It was her way. She handed out compliments like they were a cartload of strawberries that were going to spoil on her before she could get them preserved. She gave them away desperately. "Here—you take this—you might be able to get some good out of it before it spoils," her little dark eyes pleaded. After a while these laudations got to be a glut on the market and nobody openly valued them, but Mrs. Birdsey kept on just the same. Something made her do it, perhaps a deep-lying wish to be complimented in return (she never was, nobody thought of such a thing), or a painful need to be thought agreeable by her fellows, a need greater than others were tormented by, maybe, as the ibex needs mountains and the wanderoo needs trees, or if not that, a nervous habit, as some twitch and others jerk.
     It was not a bad habit! It made everybody feel wonderfully good even when they did not believe a word she was saying, or only half or three quarters believed it (for she had too often been heard giving praise where none was deserved). Certainly the Ecklund girls—Myra, too—felt better to hear that they were beautiful, bright, talented and looked nice in their clothes, than if they had heard they were not and didn't, or heard nothing. The thing about Mrs. Birdsey was, though so often giving a compliment when it was ridiculous to do so—as for instance, praising Aglia Parmalee for her good housekeeping, Mrs. Lilygren for her taste in hats and blind old Mr. Ayres for his spruceness—in one's own case, she might possibly be right, or if wrong, not SO wrong as in the case of others. Everybody disdained Mrs. Birdsey's myriad compliments. However, nobody but thought that in his own circumstance there might be a grain—no more than a grain, perhaps, but a grain—of truth in what she said.
     --From Up Home

Monday, November 11, 2013

"Pay it without a second thought"

One of the great principles of Doctor's philosophy was that there's so many varieties of misery in this life that can't be cured by money, if there's one that can, why, pay it without a second thought.
     --From Variation West

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The universal Public (whites only)

The Salt Lake House had always been (and been allowed to be, for practical purposes) non-denominational, its proprietors Mr. and Mrs. Birdwood (he a fallen-away tithe-paying Mormon, she a fallen-away tithe-paying Catholic) hospitable to the extended, international or universal Public except in cases where that Public happened to be brown, black, red or yellow.
     --From Variation West

Saturday, November 9, 2013

"A fad got started"

History wouldn’t have paid Sodom and Gomorrah any more attention than it does to St. Paul and Minneapolis had not a fad got started in the two places of fellows falling in love with fellows and pronging fellows to an extent that it even got them noticed by the authors of the Bible.
     --From Variation West

Friday, November 8, 2013

The last straw

In her mind’s eye, like a picture in a frame on the wall, Linnea saw herself at this moment in the rain and mud dragging her cow along. Where was her vanity now, that had made of her self a spotless spruced-up citified woman that any man would be proud of? Her hair blew around her face in sodden strings. She was without her corset, and had left her dignity in the drawer with it. Her Mother Hubbard was ugly and shapeless, her shoes a caution. Another year of this and what would she be like? She! who went to the wedding at the Seelys’, who could go to the Tabernacle and sit there as handsome as anybody, who could window-shop down Main Street, who could drink coffee with friend after friend—what would she be like? A cow, that’s what! As dumb and heartless and soulless and clompy and manure-heeled as a cow! And not in a class with Bonnie either.
     She stopped tugging and pulling suddenly and let the rope go. “No, sir,” she said out loud, “I’ll be damned and double-damned if I’ll do it! No, sir, by God Almighty,” she said, glaring upward through the rain and closing down her umbrella as though she had got safe at home under a snug roof. “I might not set the world on fire and I might be just as poor a sight and just as no-account in one place as another, but I’ll be damned and double-damned if I stay buried in this HOLE, pulling a COW around without a CORSET on and nobody to care whether I live or die! I’ll be TRIPLE-damned if I will!” she said. “Was I born to be planted out on ten acres like a tree and left there? No, I was not!” she said. “Was I born to have some double-damned man plant me where he wanted me and leave me there? No, I was not,” she said. “Was I born with sense enough to get in out of the rain? No, I was not,” she said, “but I’ll LEARN some sense or I’ll fall over dead trying. A house don’t have to fall on me!”
     And there it was. That was the last straw, that broke the camel’s back. A little thing, for size it up and it’s always some little thing. Not the cupboard falling on Rudie, not the mosquitoes or flies, not the loneliness and isolation, not the frozen potatoes, not running out of fuel and keeping the children in bed two days, boiling her coffee over the flame of the lamp, until Olaf sent out the load of coal he promised, not running out of flour and being two days without that, not getting scared to death in this God-forsaken place that every cough was pneumonia and every stomachache an obstruction of the bowels. No. It was dragging a cow through the mud in the rain with her shoes making that nasty, sucking, clopping, slopping, mucky sound every time she lifted her feet and the cow pulling back and her wet hair blowing in her eyes like a witch’s.
     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"So true and so sincere"

It is interesting enough to put down to paper—from day to day—the happenings and thoughts of a period in our lives when Ardyth has finally settled down to write. To follow her while she is writing and to see what will come of it. What being printed, published and being read will do to her—and possibly money—or not being published, not being read. I am sure though, that she never will quit writing—even though her book she is writing on now might not be what I think it is—for her life is one of devotion to writing, so true and so sincere as to admit no doubt, ever. She has the enviable gift to recollect her past and reminisce in the most minute details almost from the day she was born.
     --From her husband Egon's journal, Christmas Day 1947

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"Why do we have to notice?"

If you could just be good and not know it, why, then you were really good, but the minute you knew it, you weren't so good any more. The trick was not to know. Like Wanda's oldest little girl. Pearl could sing like an angel when she was out in the yard by herself playing and didn't think anybody was paying attention, but the minute she thought somebody was, she showed off and then she didn't sing half so well any more. That's the way it was with feelings of generosity, or thankfulness, or sorrow, or anything. The minute you got to noticing, then they weren't true any more, like Pearl singing to an audience. Why do we have to notice?
     --From Good Morning, Young Lady

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Waiting for big girlhood

There's a long stretch between little girlhood and big girlhood. The child lives in the same house, but she's sent all her possessions on ahead to the new place down the road (hopes, aspirations and all her dreams are there) thinking to follow them tomorrow, next week. Too soon she sends them on ahead, and forlorn, ill at ease, finds herself waiting out her lease in empty rooms, not even a doll to play with, for the toys of childhood, these too, too soon, are given away.
     --From Up Home

Monday, November 4, 2013

Landing the Sydney Duck

One day the doctor and his driver came dragging in a great long Sydney Duck dressed in a red flannel shirt, with a mob cap on and a knife stuck in his belt. They thought at first his name was Sydney Duck, but Sydney was where he came from, in Australia, and the inflamed vermiform appendix in his caecum was about to bust, the doctor said. Ever anxious to remove this lobe, the doctor fought Mr. O’Heron, wild with fever, like a great fish he was trying to land. Finally it took all of them to get the man on the table, and the doctor even had to give him a slight clout to the temple with a stick of stove wood to keep him there.
     --From Variation West

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"Ardyth is a novelist"

Since last night I knew that Ardyth is a novelist. That she is a writer with a style all her own and an imagination as apart as her hair and her eyes and her wit. But that her medium would be the novel on a large canvas I knew only since yesterday, because she read to me a whole long passage with characters more alive and near than those met in my waking hours.
     --From her husband Egon's journal, November 23, 1947

Saturday, November 2, 2013


For the first time she knew what it meant to be bereft: You had something to tell, and the only one in the world to tell it to, was gone.
     --From Good Morning, Young Lady

Friday, November 1, 2013

"Francois had enough of women"

So three generations were working at Alfonce & Son: Henri, Pierre and Francois. But with Francois the whole ancestral line ground to a halt, because Francois didn’t want to get married. Even to please his grandfather Henri on his deathbed, Francois said non, and Henri died an unhappy man. But Francois had enough of women and their hair à la Sappho, à la Venus, à la Caracalla and d’Egyptienne by day. To contend with them by night as well would have been more than he could bear.
     --From Variation West

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hair-do geometry

Her hair-do looked as if it had been arrived at by ruler, compass, geometry and shellac.
     --From Marry Me, Carry Me

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Raven mother

I never was that excited about reproducing either, and must confess it appeared to me more of a hardship than a privilege, the price you were supposed to pay for mortality, as if you had run up a big bill with God before you were even born. I couldn't imagine having happy children, Mother always said she would feel sorry for them, I would feed them too much and keep them too bundled up. But anyway Egon and I decided we would be each other's baby, and he kept his part of the bargain but I didn't. To him, as to my books and to many other things in this world, I was a raven mother.
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Medicine man versus the sickness

A disease to the Indians, Haze said, was like talking about a claim-jumper or a burglar, some crook that had got, instead of into your house or property, into your body. If you could see it, it would look like an actual person! No intelligence to speak of. So the right kind of soft soaping—prettier’n a speckled bird! beat the Dutch! ain’t you the finest!—compliments like that, that the medicine man could reel off to perfection, and the sickness would start to first peep out, and then—that would be the moment! Grab, pull, yank—No, you don’t, you jobbing dealer! And Haze said he felt foolish to say what he saw then, but he did see it! as plain as I see you, and it was a fight between old Duck Legs and something that looked like a man but had no substance, like a blue gauze of smoke. Powerful, though, it pounded, thumped and shook the medicine man till he was bleary-eyed and blood run down his face. But Duck Legs hung on and won. Then back into the forest he dragged whatever the thing was and drowned it in the river. And the dying patient reared up, cured.
     --From Variation West

Monday, October 28, 2013

How to find Mr. Harland's arm

It is amazing how heavy a human arm can be when not attached to the body. Tot buried it, wrapped in old calico, in the yard and when Mr. Harland got better and made ready to leave for the Montana gold fields, she took him out in the back yard and showed him its resting place. He thought of digging it up and taking it with him so as not to be lacking a part of himself on the day of Resurrection. But then he decided not to and keep a note on his person instead as to where it could be found when wanted.
     --From Variation West

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A cruel surprise

Her story began with employment at age seventeen in the Mitigated Affliction Department of Hardman’s Emporium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A week later the floorwalker’s insane wife ran her out of the store with the sharp point of an unopened parasol. Life brought many cruel surprises . . .
     --From Variation West

Saturday, October 26, 2013

"Rampant youth"

Often I have wondered how I, “missing so much and so much,” made it through this far. It was bad enough anyway but during the years I wrote my books, such as they were, I might as well have been hit on the head and put into deep freeze. I remember how surprised I was when I took my niece and some other guests to the one concert by the Beatles in Oregon during their one and only tour of the nation. We took our seats early, and as all this rampant youth poured in, I couldn’t believe my eyes at their clothes and shoes and here were all these bales of hair grown while I was sleeping. Who were these people? Where had they come from? And so it has been.
     --From Ardyth's memoir New York on Five Dollars a Day

Friday, October 25, 2013

Wishing to be a Catholic

I have often wished I was a Catholic so I could go and confess all I have said here to a priest and have him tell me what to do to try to make amends. One time I even had a long conversation with a priest out at the Grotto. He said how lovely it would be if I joined the church, I would find the peace that passeth understanding, and he said I would be given a new name, too. Mary, he said. Well, that ended it for me. Mary. So here I stand unshriven and unabsolved.
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cannibals and sugar beets

"She told me once she was proud to have Brother Johnson sit in her kitchen and drink a cup of cocoa like he does every week. Because he was even wrote up once in the Salt Lake Tribune!"
     "For what?"
     "Because when he was on his mission, he was nearly ready to be cooked and ate by cannibals. Or anyway that’s what he says when he gets up and bears his testimony. Only at the last minute he converted them. Also his sugar beet for three years running has took first prize at the Fair."
     --From Variation West

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Born in the deep dark Siuslaw woods

Tupso was happy enough to be born where she was in the deep dark Siuslaw forest. Trees there (smelling like cedar chests and Christmas Night and eucalyptus globulus) rose up off the forest floor and kept on going, some so big around that twelve little Indians holding hands couldn't reach around them or skip within their undergrowth of manzanita, salal, thimbleberries, ferns and rotting logs (asleep in lycopods and moss) that once were part of templed majesty. . . . I also started life in the Siuslaw woods, probably not fifty feet from the wickiup where Tupso was born. It was still a wilderness but the part down close to the Siuslaw, where you could look across the river and see the little town of Florence, Oregon, thought of itself as enough of an entity to have a name. And so it had one, the founder's two oldest children's names, Glen and Ada, put together to make GLENADA. I brought Glenada’s population up to 117 and if the Titanic had not gone down the very night I was born, taking up the whole front page and almost the whole next edition of the Florence Gazette, I am sure that fact would have been given prominence.
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Aunt Myrtle speaks

Aunt Myrtle was a dignified woman, with high hips that started right up under her shoulder blades, tidy gray hair and a rather blank expression. She was said to be able to talk “in tongues,” a rare gift, but so far nobody had been able to interpret what she said. Since she could not interpret it, either, it was not known what she had been talking about. Nevertheless she was thought to have conveyed messages of urgency and importance, if only they could have been understood, and some wondered if she had not at one time or another foretold some national calamity which since had taken place.
     --From Up Home

Monday, October 21, 2013

"We won't know we ever lived"

We got a television. The west coast was slow in getting a line out here across the Rockies for some reason, so it was years before Oregonians were hooked up. After an evening with ours, he was absolutely stricken. "Our lives will have passed and we won't know we ever lived."
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A farm boy's fear

Of the busts, bubbies, udders, knockers, branched and flowering tits that were a part of the female of whatever species, he as a farm boy had been well aware from an early age, but except for clutching social handfuls of bosom from time to time, much as a nursing baby does, after he grew big enough to take girls out, or using them for a pillow on a picnic, he tried to steer as clear of them as of the abominable connection with domestic animals (especially the licentious she-goat) that could send an innocent boy to hell. Somehow synonymized in his rural mind were beasts and breasts . . .
     --From Variation West

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Novel Reader

Mrs. Orbit was the only woman Linnea ever knew who read books. Not only did she buy the paper-backed kind, but she actually went to the library and drew books out, two at a time and read them all through. The beds would not be made, the ironing close to mildew, the cold dishwater not thrown out the back door, the leftovers moldering in the pantry, but Mrs. Orbit had to get through those books to see how they turned out. The stove would not be blacked, the ashes showering down upon the hearth, the house cold, the children as free as birds, herself in a morning sack with an unkempt head of witch’s hair, but the books had to be read. For her neighbors Mrs. Orbit was that thing to be mysteriously whispered about, like the drinker or hermaphrodite, the Novel Reader. They pointed out her house to strangers: A Novel Reader lives in there.
     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Friday, October 18, 2013

Make it stop!

Good grief, people were always making things, wonders, marvels and multi-purpose absurdities till they’re piled up to the sky! enough for a World’s Fair somewhere on feverish Earth, binary coded and artificially intelligenced every five minutes.  It really should stop for a while.
     --From Ardyth's memoir New York on Five Dollars a Day

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Mormonee and Mericats

Captured as a child by wicked Goshutes, Loudhawk was taken north to Fort Lemhi on the Salmon River, sold as a slave to the Cheyennes and did not escape from them till he was grown. Back home again, he found himself neither Paiute nor Cheyenne but as strange to his whole tribe—and even his sick mother and the blue quamash—as a snake with legs. Everything had changed. The Mormonee had come into the land with spells and charms, pants, straw hats and hoes. Even great Chief Kanosh wore the pants, the hat, talked the talk, but would not touch the hoe. Chief Kanosh wanted a rifle and got a rifle. His warriors the same, and bullets too. To Loudhawk other strangers were called the Mericats. Mericats and Mormonee did not like each other though speaking both the same tongue, Mericat. So it was said at the Council Fire, where no room was made for Loudhawk. He must prove himself, he was told. Not in the old ways. Now he must go far away to Jondy Lee and get the pants, the hat and hoe, and learn to say in Mericat I want a job, I want to earn some money. He did all this and everything went as it should. With some of his wealth he bought a pony and started home, and on the way by means of an enchantment plucked a redbird off a bush (as though it had been a rose) for the daughter of Chief Kanosh. But she was gone when he rode in with it, wed in the canyonlands, and his mother was dead. He had proved himself. Chief Kanosh took his wealth. And now at the Council Fire Loudhawk had a place. He also had a voice but somehow did not raise it, even though the treaty puzzled him. The treaty said: Your people and my people shall band together against the Mericat. But Mormonee and Mericat were one tribe. Both “moving people.” How do you tell one from the other?  “Who’s on the Lord’s side, who?” the Indians heard the Mormonees sing as they rode painted and in their feathers like Indians themselves onto the cliffs to join them in battle. That’s how you tell, the Mormonees were on the Lord’s side. And the Mericats lay below in the Mountain Meadow . . .
     --From Variation West

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

In a snit

It is easy to be in a snit with relatives. Many may be lintheads, and others possess a nerve one would hate to have in a tooth.
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"The blade was sharp"

His hairline was beginning ever so slightly to recede, and if he had lived another twenty years, instead of just twelve days, he might have gone bald, or very near it, and that would have made him miserable. Anything would, that came and nibbled at his beauty, or dimmed it a little, like losing a tooth or waking up with a sty or having a vein cobweb across his cheek in a miniature confluence, a red raveling of fine threads. Tonight, the night of Good Friday, a few minutes past ten in the evening, April 14, 1865, nothing was wrong with his looks. He was twenty-six years old and as fresh as a daisy when for the last time he came out of Peter Taltavul's saloon into the wet spring night and walked up the brightly lit cobblestone street. It was only a few steps to the door of the theater, and when he pushed it open and went in there wasn't a spot or a stain, a mildew, a wrinkle, a shadow, to mar him. He had on elegant riding boots with slender steel spurs that gave him a courier's consecrated yet debonair look, a black broadcloth frock coat, tight trousers, fine linen shirt, checkered necktie, brocade vest and soft slouch hat.
     He was an actor named John Wilkes Booth and he was about to murder Abraham Lincoln, the President of the United States of America. He had the gun to do it with, a derringer about six inches long, a lightweight, luxurious little weapon mounted in gold, and a dagger, too, engraved with the spidery words AMERICA, LIBERTY, INDEPENDANCE. The last word was misspelled, but the blade was sharp.
     --From The Spur

Monday, October 14, 2013


That man wouldn’t take to old age kindly. (How old was he? Forty? Maybe fifty?) Wouldn’t take to sickness kindly, or enfeeblement. Losses kindly. One in particular that Mrs. Dooley said struck only the men (“impudence,” she named it in a whisper), and when that happened they’d hang theirself as soon as look at you. Not all, of course, but some. Though why a man should take it to heart like that she didn’t know, when you considered how tiny a part them particular ornaments was of their whole body, and how little what they did amounted to, except in the case of fathering George Washington or, say, our own dear Prophet. If impudence, though, had actually struck the doctor, none of the ladies had any way of knowing.
     --From Variation West

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The devilish OED

I decided the Oxford Dictionary—ten volumes, as I look back, of the entire language that conquered India and everything in its wake and is still a contender after 500 years—millions of quotations from England’s heavenly choir of literary angels so dazzling that you could sit and read and turn the pages till you died right there under big books weighing twenty pounds apiece—might be fine for the William Buckleys of this world but for certain others was the work of the Devil.
     From Ardyth's memoir New York on Five Dollars a Day

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Make a wish

It is not true, of course, that say the word “wish” and some sufflation like the breath of the Holy Ghost goes to work to grant it. But sometimes the utterance does move some airy element to activity, and one fine day . . . Wasn’t it you who wished for such and such? Well, behold! Hindle would be starting up that grand staircase between the bronze boy and girl statues on the newel posts holding up the branches lit with amber globes, she would be going down that wide upstairs hall to that polished door, turning the silver doorknob and walking into that bedroom all pale blue satin and Brussels lace. She would hear that china cottage clock covered with roses and tiny birds chime once, chime twice, glance up worriedly and see the back of it and her own white face reflected in the mirror over the mantel. Didn’t you want to be here? Wasn’t that you?
     --From Variation West

Friday, October 11, 2013

Daubing up Herman

"Blow your nose, Thornton," Althea ordered, raising her voice.
     "You go play and mind your own business," her mother said mildly.
     "What with?"
     "Go look out the window."
     "Can't I daub up Herman and give him a feather?"
     "Not while he's good," Mrs. Luby said of the baby who now sat nodding in his perilously tall and narrow highchair, with his wet chin on his wet bib. "I sometimes daub his fingers with a little molasses," she explained, "and give him a feather and he'll pick it off first one hand and then the other hand for the longest time."
     --From Good Morning, Young Lady

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Keeping track of nights

Time is money, the saying goes, and once upon a time in the Mormon country it was kept as careful track of as any coin ever spent. One polygamist died of old age in Salt Lake City still owing his third wife two overnight visits and a Pioneer Day, and she never forgave him for it.
     --From Up Home

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

"With province and sway"

Her excellence as mortal creature had been brought to the proof. If her desire was Jack’s command, if he did what she wanted, showing thereby that he loved her, she had reality; she was a functioning substantiality with province and sway. Woman’s meridian does not occur, like a butte. It is man-made, like a pyramid. She did not study all this out, but neither does the Carpenter Bee take a pencil out from behind his ear and sit down with his legs crossed and figure out how many beeswax partitions he is going to need in his tunnel. She only knew that unless Jack got rid of the dynamite she was null and void, a nobody, made out of moonshine.
     --From Marry Me, Carry Me

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Pig sacrifice

Our cat Violet ate pork kidneys, and if company made a comment about her he would say gravely, "Yes, a large pig has to be sacrificed every day for Violet."
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent (speaking of her husband, Egon)

Monday, October 7, 2013

"Steadfast change"

Forever is a funny thing, is only time inconstant, only life that bears within it (like an engine does its means of generating power) steadfast change. The hardest heart, the thickest ice, the stiffest monument, all will melt into the distant sky, break into rain, to tears, to clouds of sand. And that change—count on it—will change again! And so the spring came round in mint condition and almost instantly began to tarnish.
     --From Variation West

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Dismissal and discrimination"

Where habits of dismissal and discrimination run through the social and pietistic standards of where people live, it's like lead in the drinking water, a lot of the kids will grow up very dumb.
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent

Saturday, October 5, 2013

"Like a studio starlet"

Growing up and at the age of twenty selling a story to a New York magazine called All-Storey for sixty dollars changed the entire vale of my life. From then on for the next two years, I was like a studio starlet on honorarium for some future explosion, some dazzling conversion into real fact, I was oxygen, hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen waiting to combine into “vital properties.” Or as Emily Dickinson would have it, "Not what the stars have done / But what they still may do / Is what upholds the sky!"
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent

Friday, October 4, 2013

"To write it down"

She longed for the pen in her hand, the smooth paper under it, to be telling, to be explaining, because all of a sudden then the picture in black and white would begin to glow in its natural colors. To write it down was to put the finishing touch on any event, see what it was, what it meant, what it stood for. To put anything into words was like pouring melted wax on top of cold glasses of jelly, to harden there and preserve and keep what was underneath like new.
     --From Good Morning, Young Lady

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Murdock goes to the auction

Like happiness, Burdick’s Institution for the Care of the Sick was a secondary product, got hold of by Tot and Serapta Burdick, spinster sisters, in a roundabout way on account of the path their brother Murdock started down when he and his drinking friend Francis went to the auction at Camp Floyd and came home loaded down with cots, Army blankets and a pile of monstrously large kettles and pans he not only had no use for but no place to store except in the spare room at his sisters’ house. Because of this (though for other reasons too), his wife Alice became quite intemperate in her harangue against him. All that pile of useless stuff!
            Useful enough, though, Murdock knew, if she would listen to reason and he could sit down and talk with her man to man about God’s idea of matrimony, which, set forth by the Prophet Joseph Smith before they killed him, was not just the condition of being husband and wife, though that had its virtues too, but more like prevailing as a shepherd and his flock. Murdock tried to explain this to Alice during their honeymoon nine years before, but she went into such paroxysms of fainting, hysteria and lunacy that he was deprived of ardor ever to bring the subject up again.
            Could he have done so, however, and met with the understanding that would have privileged him to move between two, three or four households instead of just one measly cottage, think how practical these pallets, covers and big cooking utensils would be! The tenderness! You dear old sweetheart, you angel husband. (Instead of always being ripped up one side and down the other.) He often thought that what he should have done, while he was over there in England on his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where he met Alice, was try to find out more about the true nature of the English before throwing in with one of them.
            --From Variation West